Research on signal processing improves auditory communication

Posted on February 11, 2024

Natalie Hanekom, a master’s degree student in the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology, is not one to let being a woman stand in the way of achieving her dream. By utilising speech enhancement signal processing, she wants to improve people’s quality of life by improving their auditory communication experiences. As the top student in the Department of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering (EECE) in 2023, she has decided to continue her postgraduate studies in electronic engineering within the Department’s Bioengineering Group.

Her final-year project involved the development of an acoustic microphone array beamformer. This is a method of creating a virtual pattern in space that allows sounds from certain directions to be heard, while “muting” or turning down the volume” on sounds coming from other directions. This technique of spatial hearing enables microphone arrays to perform various tasks, including cancelling background noise, separating the speech of many people in a room, and localising and tracking people in a room.

She would like to use the knowledge gained from her-final year project in her master’s study as speech enhancement signal processing is something that is applicable to everyone in modern society. Microphone array beamforming, for example, is used in most new phones, laptops and home assistive devices, as well as in cochlear implants and hearing aids.

Her interest in signal processing was piqued by research conducted by her parents, who are both academics in the University’s Department of EECE. Her dream of pursuing an academic career was prompted by the fact that she wants to be able to apply real knowledge that can help people in their daily lives. She loves academia, as it enables her to be on the cutting-edge of the latest developments, and the first to know about research being conducted to develop new technologies. She is, however, open to the option of entering industry in a research and development capacity, which her degree will enable her to do.

She chose the University of Pretoria for her undergraduate studies as she considered it to be one of the best universities in the world, and she has not regretted her decision. Despite choosing to study in the male-dominated discipline of engineering, she received nothing but encouragement along her academic journey. “The University does not discriminate on the basis of gender, and we were treated equally in all respects.”

She would recommend a career in science for female students, as they have an important role to play in society, and their contribution is no different to that made by their male counterparts.

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