Rachel Olson received a EU Horizons Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Individual Fellowship to investigate the biomechanics of birdsong as part of the Birdsong Team of long-term fellow Pauline Provini.
Birds use a unique vocal organ, the syrinx, to produce a diversity of sounds and songs. This sound is then filtered by the rest of the vocal tract, such as the trachea, larynx, tongue, and beak to produce the sound we hear. The resultant sounds capture a much greater range of vocal abilities than those produced by humans. By understanding how these sounds are created and modulated, we can inform bioinspired prosthetics to restore a natural-sounding voice to people who lost their voice. Additionally, this work will inform our understanding on the evolution of the biomechanics of birdsong.
This project will use state of the art methods to digitally dissect the vocal tract of a diversity of bird species to determine which anatomical characteristics are correlated with sound characteristics. In vivo work using x-ray and air particle imaging methods will allow us to directly observe and quantify the movements and deformations of the avian vocal system to determine how the vocal tract modulates sound. This will also allow us to validate computer models of airflow and sound dynamics and apply results to extinct species to determine what sounds they may have produced. Learn more about the project here.