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UMaine Today Magazine


Student Focus

Intonation in infancy

Jessica Weed

 

Chris Gerbi
Photo by Jon Riley
 

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As a University of Maine undergraduate, Jessica Weed maintained a 3.96 grade point average in communication sciences and disorders, and elementary education. But it was her commitment to laboratory research that helped her to land a fellowship in the Speech-Language Pathology Program at Purdue University, and the opportunity to present her original research findings at a professional conference this fall.

The Deer Isle, Maine, native, who graduated from UMaine in May, was selected for the two-year Purdue University Andrews Fellowship, which provides a $12,855 stipend annually. She will use the fellowship to study for a combined master's degree and doctorate in speech pathology.

With the fellowship, Weed will further the research she conducted for her UMaine honors thesis on vocalizations in babies who do and do not have hearing impairments.

Weed's undergraduate thesis focused on pitch and intonation (i.e., the way people's voices rise at the end of a sentence when they ask a question). Research has demonstrated that pitch and intonation are different for adults with normal hearing and adults who are hearing-impaired. Weed's research seeks to discover if the same is true for hearing and hearing-impaired infants. The results could shed light on when the differences develop, which could lead to more effective assessment and intervention protocols.

Because this sort of research on infants is so new, Weed had to refine existing methodology to analyze infants' pitch and intonation. She will present her research, including the methodology she developed, at the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association international conference in Atlanta, Ga., Nov. 21-24.

Weed was attracted to Purdue's graduate program in speech-language pathology because of the research conducted there on cochlear implants and speech development.

Cochlear implants are put directly into the ears of people who are severely deaf. The implants stimulate nerves that can improve hearing. The research at Purdue is focusing on the language development of infants who have received the implants.


Birth of the Appalachians

There's a historical boundary line in the western Maine woods that's unmarked by fences or signs, but it's unmistakable to University of Maine graduate student Chris Gerbi.

The line divides some of the oldest rocks in Maine from those that form the much younger, surrounding landscape. Known to geologists as the Chain Lakes massif, this ancient terrain is the largest of its type in the Appalachians and may provide important clues to the processes that gave birth to the mountains.

Gerbi, who is from Concord, N.H., and his advisor, Scott Johnson, UMaine assistant professor of structural geology and tectonics, have a National Science Foundation grant to study the massif. Their goal is to understand the forces that, over hundreds of millions of years, have pushed and pulled this part of the North American landscape into its present shape.

The 250-square-mile area is located between Jackman and Eustis, Maine, and extends northwest into Quebec. The granitic rocks of the massif are more than 450 million years old.

Geologists don't know what collided with North America to start the Appalachian mountain building cycle. It's likely that the rocks of the massif were initially formed from sediments that accumulated in a depression off the coast. However, what happened next isn't clear.

Gerbi and Johnson will study a lump of that ancient sea floor that still sits on top of the massif just west of Eustis. How Boil Mountain arrived on top of the older terrain is a mystery that Gerbi and Johnson would like to solve.

 

UMaine Today Magazine
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