Sussex neurobiologist honoured for sound science

Professor Ian Russell

A University of Sussex neuroscientist whose work has advanced our understanding of hearing is to be awarded the highest honour in his field at a special ceremony in California next week.


Professor Ian Russell is to receive the Association for Research in Otolaryngology (ARO) Award of Merit, in recognition of his “exceptional contributions to the field of hearing” during a 35-year research career at Sussex.


The award, which will single him out as one of the most eminent in his field, will be presented during the organisation’s annual Mid-Winter Meeting on Monday 9 February.


The ARO, a scientific society of researchers in hearing, speech, balance, smell, taste, and diseases of the head and neck, established the Award of Merit in 1977. Previous winners include the Nobel Prize winner Georg von Békésy.


Ian will be only the fourth English person to receive the award.


Professor Russell, a Fellow of the Royal Society, said: “The award is made for research that was done entirely at Sussex. The award means international recognition for the outstanding group of scientists with whom it has been my great pleasure to work with over the years in the Hearing Group at Sussex.”


A lot of Professor Russell’s work has focused on the cochlea, the part of the ear where sound vibrations are converted into nerve impulses to facilitate hearing.


Research methods devised by Professor Russell and Sussex colleague Peter Sellick allowed them to measure for the first time auditory responses in living sensory cells of the cochlea, which opened up a new way of studying hearing and allowed surgeons to perform more delicate surgery on the cochleae of patients.


More recently in the University of Sussex Hearing Group, Professor Russell and Professor Guy Richardson have combined molecular genetics, cell and molecular biology, and biophysics to understand the workings and failings of the mammalian cochlea


Professor Russell’s work usually involves mammalian cochlear cells, but he has also been researching mosquito hearing, with some interesting findings relating to the insect’s reproductive cycle. Professor Russell says: “The mosquito research is for me an exciting new venture that I run in parallel with the work on hearing.”


Before receiving the award, Professor Russell will give a 45-minute lecture on his latest mosquito discovery: that the annoying whine of male and female mosquitoes forms the basis for sexual recognition.


Professor Russell and fellow Sussex researcher Dr Gabriella Gibson discovered that male and female mosquitoes harmonise with each other to ensure that their potential mates are of the right sex and species. The ‘song’ produced by each insect depends on the frequency of the insects’ wing beats in flight. Two mosquitoes don't harmonise successfully if they are of the same sex or if they are not the same type of mosquito.

Last updated: Friday, 5 February 2010