I am a PhD student at Sigmedia labs in the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering in Trinity College Dublin. My research group is concerned with what we call Digital Media Processing. Members of my group work on an array of engineering issues from getting computers to understand the emotion in a persons speech to the digital restoration of ancient documents.
My own research is in the area of what is know as Immersive audio. I work on trying to present listeners with a next generation audio experience, whereby the sound is presented in a three dimensional space around the listener as opposed to plain old stereo. The real trick to what we are attempting to do is that we don’t employ arrays of loudspeakers around the listener, like for example a 5.1 surround sound system. Instead we aim to present the same spatialised experience over just a pair of headphones, tricking the user into hearing sounds from outside their head. The digital signal processing algorithms and techniques required to shape audio so that it can appear to come from any location can be highly complex. It is in the effort to further understand and demystify the behaviour of spatialised hearing and the presentation of immersive audio that my research interests chiefly lie. In essence its all about the mathematics behind why we hear what we hear.
A day in the life :
Like a great number of PhD students involved in Signal Processing I tend to spend a sizeable chunk of my time at my desk, in front of my screen, either running simulations of sound-waves or of systems to influence their behaviour.
Unlike most other PhD students however, I get to play with lots of lovely expensive audio equipment that I could only ever dream of owning myself. Whenever I develop a new algorithm or analysis method the only true way to test if it actually works is to build the real world system and listen. This puts me in contact with speaker arrays, acoustic dummy heads and whole hosts of preamps, microphones, soundcards and software. I even get to spend time in a fully fitted recording studio!
And if Im not writing (or fixing) code on my computer, or messing in the studio, I’m reading; because keeping abreast of what’s happening in your field is the lifeblood of being a research student.
Every evening the students (and the senior members of the lab) gather for a cup of coffee, an obligatory slice of cake and a good chat about our research and everything else. If your interested in something, a PhD is just about the best way to indulge that interest.