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Advanced MRI Technique Studies Singing At 100 Frames Per Second

Did you know that an average MRI captures 10 frames per second?

Well, 10 just didn’t seem like enough for scientists at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois. According to the scientists at Beckman, 100 different muscles in the chest, neck, jaw, tongue and lips must work together to produce sound. Scientists then analyzed lively images of vocal movement at a substantial 100 frames per second, thus becoming the most advanced MRI technique in the world.

"Typically, MRI is able to acquire maybe 10 frames per second or so but we are able to scan 100 frames per second, without sacrificing the image quality," said Brad Sutton, technical director of the Beckman's Biomedical Imaging Center (BIC). 

The sound of the person’s voice is created in the larynx, which is located in the neck. Scientists found that when humans speak or sing, our vocal folds the two small pieces of tissue together. As air passes over them, they vibrate - consequently producing sound.  

After ten years of working as a professional singer in Chicago, Aaron Johnson’s passion for singing led to some aggressive research in attempt to understand the human voice, specifically the aging one. The scientists went on to further demonstrate their study with a video of someone singing The Wizard of Oz’s classic “If I Only Had A Brain” (shown below).

This advanced technique showcased potential, exceling at a high spatial and temporal resolution of speech. The audience found the new MRI technology quite promising, due to its ability to offer not only detail but speed as well.

"The fact that we can produce all sorts of sounds and we can sing is just amazing to me," added Aaron Johnson.

In order to combine imaging with audio, the researchers used a noise-cancelling fiber optic microphone to pull out the voice and then align the audio track with the imaging.  

"We have designed a specialized acquisition method that gathers the necessary datafor both space and time in two parts and then combines them to achieve high-quality, high-spatial resolution and high-speed imaging," Sutton informed.

As we age, our neuromuscular system and larynx change gradually (this leads to a lot of the deficits of that of an older voice). "I am interested in understanding how these changes occur and if interventions like vocal training can reverse these effects," Johnson pointed out. "In order to capture the articulation movements, 100 frames per second is necessary and that is what makes this technique incredible," the authors added. 

The new MRI technology stands useful in studying how rapidly the tongue is moving, along with other muscles in the head and neck used during speech and singing. 

In conclusion,
 high spatiotemporal resolution with full-vocal-tract spatial coverage can be attained for speech imaging experiments with very few constraints.


Medindia, Magnetic Resonance in Medicine - the journal, 

 By Karla Cordova

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