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Alumna Mounya Elhilali wins ONR Young Investigators Award

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Alumna Mounya Elhilali wins ONR Young Investigators Award

Alumna Mounya Elhilali (ECE Ph.D. 2004) is one of 26 scholars nationwide selected to share in $13.7 million in research funding through the Office of Naval Research’s Young Investigators Program.

At Maryland, Elhilali was advised by Professor Shihab Shamma (ECE/ISR). After graduation she was an ISR postdoctoral researcher from 2005–2007. She currently is an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University who won an NSF CAREER Award for “Cognitive Auditory Systems for Processing of Complex Acoustic Scenes” in 2009.

Elhilai was chosen from more than 350 candidates—a record number of applicants for the award, one of the oldest and most selective scientific research advancement programs in the country. Its purpose is to fund early-career academic researchers whose scientific pursuits show exceptional promise for supporting the Navy and Marine Corps while also promoting their professional development.

Her project, “Active Listening: Closing the loop between sensation, perception and behavior,” will tackle one of the major unsolved problems in neuroscience: how our brains are able to effortlessly recognize sounds. Elhilali says her field currently suffers a scarcity of theories that integrate the sensory circuitry in the auditory pathway with the promising capabilities of the brain, most importantly its ability to adapt to the demands of an ever-changing acoustic environment. She aims to fill that void by developing large scale architectures for auditory object recognition that integrate sensory processing in the brain with cognitive information reflected in our prior knowledge and expectations in changing listening environments. The results could be directly applied to developing medical devices and communication aids, brain-machine systems as well as military, surveillance and security systems.

About the award
Office of Naval Research young investigators are college and university faculty who have attained tenure-track positions in the past five years. They are selected based upon the merit of their research and potential contributions for game-changing advances for the Navy and Marine Corps. Many YIP winners continue to engage in naval research beyond their award periods and their research careers often help them earn opportunities and prominence in their respective fields. The program began in 1985 when 10 winners were awarded $50,000 per year for three years. Since then, the program has grown steadily to include a total of 579 recipients who represent 120 institutions of higher education.

“The Department of the Navy’s support of these outstanding research scientists is one of the ways we will maintain our technological advantage for the Navy and Marine Corps and our nation,” Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said in a statement. “The Young Investigator Program rewards these emerging leaders in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.”

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April 20, 2012


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