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Simon, Jonathan

Jonathan Simon
2145 A.V. Williams Building

Research Interests 

My broad research goal is to understand how the auditory cortex processes complex sounds such as speech and other natural sounds. Because of my focus on speech and higher order processing, my research uses human rather than animal subjects. To non-invasively record and analyze real-time neural processing in humans, I use magnetoencephalography (MEG), because of its high temporal resolution (milliseconds), reasonable spatial resolution (millimeters), and silent operation. My primary research topics address the question of how the brain turns sound into hearing (surprisingly, the objective sounds impinging upon our ears are not very tightly linked to what we hear). 
Neural computations employ algorithms developed and fine-tuned by millions of years of evolution. As such the computations are typically far beyond the capability of even the most advanced computers. But by identifying, understanding, and quantitatively characterizing the computations performed by the brain, it is possible to determine those algorithms. This computational level of understanding has great potential benefits to engineering applications (e.g. auditory-based identification methods, robust speaker identification, robust speech processing) as well as to health-related applications (hearing aids and cochlear implants that would actually function well in a noisy environment).
The class of neural computations that use the temporal character of the sounds being processed—those for which time plays an important role—are the primary focus of my research. This includes the neural computations employed in the processing of rhythmic sounds, e.g., speech or simple repeating patterns, and in the disentanglement of an individual rhythmic sound from other competing sounds.
Some of my main research areas are: 
• Investigations of how the brain solves the “Cocktail Party” problem, i.e., how, in a crowded and noisy environment, we have the ability to hone in on a single auditory source (e.g. one person talking), while simultaneously suppressing all the remaining interfering sounds
• How the brain represents complex sounds such as human speech
• How the brain’s representations of complex sounds are built up from representations of much simpler building blocks (acoustic modulations)
• Advances in neural signal processing


Jonathan Z. Simon is an Associate Professor at the University of Maryland College Park, jointly in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the Department of Biology, and the Institute for Systems Research. He is a member of the Program in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science (NACS) and the Program in Bioengineering . His expertise is applied and theoretical neuroscience. He earned his doctorate in physics from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and did postdoctoral research in theoretical general relativity (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and University of Maryland-College Park) before embracing the field of neuroscience.

Related News 

Simon, Abshire, Elhilali give invited talks
The talks were given in Belgium and Spain. June 8, 2018

Maryland researchers awarded $1M DARPA Lagrange program cooperative agreement
Marcus, Fu, Simon and Babadi will build a scalable, risk-sensitive and real time optimization framework tailored to noninvasive neuroimaging data from the human brain. April 10, 2018

Improving speech intelligibility testing with new EEG methods
Tests developed at KU Leuven and the University of Maryland could result in better diagnoses for patients with speech comprehension issues. March 7, 2018

Pamela Abshire elected IEEE Fellow
Abshire was selected for her contribution to CMOS biosensors. November 21, 2017

Five Clark School faculty part of $8 million NIH grant to combat hearing loss in older people
Multidisciplinary research will examine strategies to improve communication challenges. October 11, 2017

Researchers part of two NSF Neural & Cognitive Systems grants worth more than $1.2 million
The NSF awards have been issued to U.S. cross-disciplinary teams to conduct innovative research focused on neural and cognitive systems. August 10, 2017

BBI FY17 Seed Grant Winners Announced
Nine projects selected for funding. May 12, 2017

2016 ECE Graduate Open House Streamed Live for Prospective Students
Perspective ECE students were invited to learn about graduate research opportunities and about graduate life at UMD November 3, 2016

Jonathan Simon gives keynote speech at SPIRE workshop
Simon spoke on “Neural Representations of Speech, and Speech in Noise, in Human Auditory Cortex.” January 18, 2016

Jonathan Simon is invited speaker at Paris Workshop on Decoding of Sound and Brain
Alumna Mounya Elhilali also was a presenter. November 11, 2015