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Rutgers-Newark Researcher Paula Tallal Named Inventor of the Year By NJ Inventors Hall of Fame

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Paula Tallal photo by John Emerson, Emerson Photography

Co-Invented Ground-breaking Software to Aid Children With Learning Disabilities

Through her cutting-edge research, Paula Tallal, Rutgers Board of Governors Professor of Neuroscience, has helped to bring positive change to more than three million children and adults who struggle with language and literacy.  Fast ForWord, a revolutionary technique and series of software programs she co-developed, assists people in more than 40 countries by establishing and strengthening the neural networks for language development.

Next month, Tallal’s achievement with Fast ForWord, as well as her body of research, will be recognized when she is named an “Inventor of the Year” by the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame.  Tallal is one of only four inventors being honored Oct. 18, as the Hall of Fame acknowledges a number of researchers for their “inventive achievements which have had a positive effect on society.”  Tallal, co-director of the Rutgers Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience , has been on faculty since 1987.

"For scientists, our life goal is to discover things of importance.  That my scientific work contributed to inventing Fast ForWord, a series of individually adaptive computer games that enhance children's cognitive, language and literacy skills, is beyond my wildest dream,” stated Tallal. “It is my hope that being named the Inventor of the Year by the NJ Inventor's Hall of Fame will result in getting Fast ForWord programs to even more children who can benefit from them."

Rutgers-Newark Interim Chancellor Phil Yeagle describes Tallal as a “giant at the center of dramatic advances in understanding the learning process.  Her ‘Fast ForWord’ invention is revolutionizing learning for ever expanding populations.”

“Dr. Paula Tallal is one of the talented innovators who help make New Jersey a powerhouse of creativity and ingenuity.  Through her pioneering work helping learning-disabled children, she is keeping alive the legacy of New Jersey inventors such as Thomas Edison,” stated Les Avery, president of the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame.

 Tallal’s more than three decades of research into the connections between auditory processing, attention, memory and language learning has found that timing is critically important for learning language and reading. The central problem for many children who struggle with language, including those with dyslexia, is that their brains have difficulty perceiving the rapidly successive acoustic changes that differentiate the speech sounds within words (phonemes), such as the difference between "da" and "ba."  In order to become a proficient reader a child must become aware that words can be broken down into smaller units of sound (phonemes) and that it is these sounds that the letters represent

Tallal and her co-researchers hypothesized that the brain’s neuroplasticity could be used to rewire neural networks to increase processing speed and hence improve language and literacy skills – or to "fire and wire" as she describes it. Neuroplasticity refers to the fact that the brain, rather than being molded and set, is able to reorganize itself in response to new situations or changes in the environment.

In 1996, Tallal was a cofounder of Scientific Learning Corporation, a neuroscience company that produces the Fast ForWord series of training programs. Fast ForWord improves language and literacy skills by training the brain to handle increasingly complex perceptual, cognitive and language information. Her co-founders include Michael Merzenich, professor emeritus, University of California, San Francisco, and his research colleague William Jenkins, and Tallal’s research colleague Dr. Steve L. Miller.

Tallal was nominated by Richard Mammone, associate vice president for innovation in the Rutgers University Office of Technology Commercialization, New Brunswick,
 and her selection was made by the Hall of Fame’s Board of Trustees.

Two other Rutgers researchers, both from the New Brunswick campus, will be honored by the hall Oct. 18, Dr. Marco Gruteser and Dr. Richard P. Martin.

The New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame, founded in 1987, promotes the role of invention in the state’s development and the role of inventors in improving society and changing lives.  To qualify for nomination to the Hall of Fame, an inventor must have lived in the state during the period of his or her inventive project, or worked for a company in the state that sponsored the work.  Candidates are ranked on several measures, the most of important of which is how well the invention or its patent was commercialized or used, as well as the significance of its impact on society.  New Jersey is the only state which celebrates technological innovation through an Inventors Hall of Fame.

Rutgers University, Newark  is home to the Newark College of Arts and Sciences, University College, the Graduate School-Newark, Rutgers Business School-Newark and New Brunswick, the School of Law-Newark, the College of Nursing, the School of Criminal Justice, the School of Public Affairs and Administration, and extensive research and outreach centers, including the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience. Approximately 12,000 students are currently enrolled in a wide range of undergraduate and graduate degree programs offered at the 38-acre downtown Newark campus.

For more information about Rutgers University, Newark, please contact Carla Capizzi, 973/353-5263, or email: capizzi@rutgers.edu.