Kathy Guo is the first to admit she wasn’t looking at the big picture.
A computer science major, Guo has spent three years working in Ohio State’s Speech, Language and Music (SLAM) Lab. During that time, she developed an app called TheraBeat to help those suffering from aphasia, a communication disorder, regain speech and comprehension through rhythm therapy.
In the SLAM Lab’s first clinical trial, a stroke victim used TheraBeat as part of her rehabilitation, which involved tapping a rhythm while saying words and phrases.
“Seeing her progress really left me inspired,” said Guo, who will graduate in May with a specialization in database systems and data analytics with a minor in business analytics. “Working on TheraBeat, I’m focused on the problem and the technical vision. But after the first trial ended and we saw the effect it had on her, I was astonished.
“I realized how big an impact our work could have in someone else’s life.”
The SLAM Lab, under the direction of Assistant Professor Yune Lee, investigates the connections among speech, music — specifically rhythm — and language. Members of SLAM bring various academic disciplines and musical backgrounds but share a passion for helping those suffering from conditions such as aphasia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. SLAM Lab’s work contributes to the groundbreaking advancements Ohio State in its focused work on chronic brain injury.
Guo is on the aphasia team, which includes Kristen McCormack, a speech language pathology graduate student who works with people who have neurogenic communication disorders, and Matthew Heard, a PhD student in neuroscience who excels at analyzing data.
“It’s really eye-opening to see a problem from different perspectives,” said Guo, who joined SLAM Lab her sophomore year because of her interest in psychology and playing the violin.
Her computer science and engineering major was Guo’s ticket into the lab. Almost immediately, SLAM Lab revealed what Ohio State can do for students.
“Ohio State offers many opportunities outside of your major to expand your knowledge and find interest in something,” Guo said. “When I joined SLAM Lab, that was the moment it clicked for me.”
She was active in D3 and Women in Engineering and participated in Datafest as a team captain. Her internships included working as a software engineer at the Ohio Supercomputer Center before she started as a technologies intern at Target.
Those experiences and academics, along with Engineering Career Services, helped her land a job at Capital One. When she begins there in August, she will be part of the Technology Develop Program, a two-year rotational program that will allow her to explore areas of software engineering.
“What I really like about computer science is there are so many interesting areas to explore,” Guo said. “It’s not just about coding. It can improve so many people’s lives.”
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Joining Ohio State’s SLAM Lab her sophomore year was a pivotal moment for Kathy Guo’s career at Ohio State. She was introduced to an inspirational mentor in Yune Lee and was able to immediately begin putting her computer science skills to work.
“I like to innovate technology that will create an impact like the technology I’m working on now,” Guo said.
SLAM Lab is a prime example of a growing trend at Ohio State to combine art and scientific research to improve lives.
SLAM Lab explores the connections between music, specifically rhythm, and speech recovery for those who have suffered brain injuries or are coping with diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Students and faculty bring a variety of music backgrounds and academic disciplines — neurology, speech therapy and computer science, to name a few — and work in research groups on specific projects that research how music can improve brain function.
Kathy Guo put her software engineering skills to the test as an intern at the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC), located on Ohio State’s west campus.
Her work included a computer modeling project that helped researchers within the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center visualize remote, uninhabitable terrain.
“I found that fascinating,” Guo said. “We were improving algorithms that can take two satellite images and form a computer 3D model of that terrain.”
OSC is a statewide supercomputing resource for Ohio’s academic and industrial researchers who require high-performance computing to get answers faster.
Across disciplines at Ohio State, faculty and students performing research can access OSC computer clusters that are comparable to mid-level machines found at National Science Foundation centers and other national labs.
Because of the numerous options available to engineering students at Ohio State, the College of Engineering offers freshmen a course sequence called Fundamentals of Engineering within its First-Year Engineering Program.
“That program helped me establish ground in the college,” said Guo, who was in the honors program. “It exposed me to the different fields of engineering other than computer science, and allowed me to meet peers who I might be working with in the next four years. It really helped me establish my place at Ohio State in the College of Engineering.”
Fundamentals of Engineering is a prerequisite before declaring a major. Students get a broad overview of engineering disciplines and are introduced to computer-aided design, programming in MATLAB, project management and technical graphics, along with gaining experience in teamwork and oral and written technical communication.
In January 2013, Matthew Heard applied to Ohio State after watching a video of the marching band. Nearly five years later, he was dotting the “i” in Script Ohio for the third time — in the Cotton Bowl, no less.
“I saw their video game show, then heard about dotting the ‘i’ and read about all those traditions. I applied to see what would happen,” said Heard, a sousaphone player who marched in the band from 2014-17. “It was an unforgettable experience.”
While Heard was studying at Ohio State, another characteristic of the university caught his eye: the research opportunities. He took advantage of many, including joining the SLAM Lab.
A 2017 Ohio State graduate with a degree in neuroscience and a minor in physics, Heard is currently a first-year PhD student in the neuroscience graduate program. He joined the SLAM Lab as its manager after taking Yune Lee’s neuroimaging of speech, language and music class.
“Seeing how driven Dr. Lee is, is really inspiring,” Heard said. “He wants to understand — we’re all driven to understand. We want to see why the brain functions the way it does. And we want to understand music because it has the potential to help people.”
Heard said SLAM Lab offers him research areas that aren’t saturated with literature yet. Not only have most music therapy studies focused on melody — not rhythm, which SLAM Lab focuses on — but, Heard said, there’s a gap in understanding how people comprehend and listen to music.
One area he wants to explore is the brains of aging musicians to find out if music keeps the brain younger by preserving functions related to language and memory.
For the moment, Heard works on the aphasia team, where he analyzes the scientific data collected in clinical trials with patients. Using machine learning to analyze functional MRI (fMRI) data, which measures changes in oxygen consumption and blood flow to brain cells, Heard is able to make connections between grammar and rhythm in study participants.
Heard said the breadth of disciplines and musical backgrounds within the SLAM Lab illustrates the strength of Ohio State as a research institution.
“Ohio State is one of the largest research universities, which lends itself to collaboration,” Heard said. “For the aphasia project, I am working with musicians, computer scientists, MRI physicists, speech-language pathology therapists and neuroscientists. Without the collaboration afforded by Ohio State, a project like this would not be possible.”