Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Skip Navigation LinksBoys Town National Research Hospital > News > Virtual Reality Technology Advances Hearing Research

Virtual Reality Technology Advances Hearing Research

​​Boys Town National Research Hospital logo​Contact: Colin Crawford
Media Coordinator, Marketing and Communications

June 15, 2016
For Immediate Release


OMAHA, NEB. – Imagine putting on a headset and transporting to an environment that’s so real your sight and mind believes you are actually there. That’s the technology behind virtual reality. So what does visual stimulation have to do with hearing research?

Researchers at Boys Town National Research Hospital are utilizing a virtual reality classroom to track the hearing and speech difficulties that children with hearing loss are having at school. Currently, about five percent or 3 million school-age children in the U.S. have some degree of hearing loss.

“Virtual reality allows my lab to match the visual space with the audio space for participants,” explains Dawna Lewis, Ph.D., Director of the Listening and Learning Laboratory at Boys Town National Research Hospital. “There are desks in a classroom with chairs, books on the bookshelves, blackboards across the room, and participants will even see reflections of light, like a sun ray coming from the window or light dancing on the surface of a desk. It feels very realistic.”

This immersive virtual environment allows researchers to have complete experimental control while giving the subject something that wasn’t possible in laboratory research. In a previous study, a classroom was simulated by surrounding participants with five different television screens and having the subjects turn and respond to each screen when an auditory-visual cue was given.

“This is a big step from our previous study,” said Timothy Vallier, M.M., research systems analyst and virtual reality software developer. “By taking away the distraction of the room looking different from how it sounds, we may see a higher performance from the subjects in this virtual environment.”

The virtual reality research will help identify why children with mild hearing loss perform the way they do in noisy environments and hopefully lead to further understanding of the accommodations needed that will benefit learning for these children across their educational lifespan.

“Virtual reality opens current and future experimental possibilities and has the potential to influence audiological and educational strategies,” explains Dr. Lewis. “We hope we can use the technology to help children and families within our community as well as worldwide.”

Utilizing this kind of technology has fellow Boys Town scientists excited for what the future holds.

“Virtual reality allows us to expand our research in multiple areas,” said Vallier. “Virtual reality doesn’t discriminate between scientific focus areas so we plan on utilizing this technology not only in hearing research, but also in balance and visual studies in the near future.”

Watch Video Overview: Using Virtual Reality as a Research Tool

To schedule an interview with Dawna Lewis, Ph.D., Tim Vallier, M.M., or to request photos or b-roll of the research, contact:

Colin Crawford
Video Producer and Media Coordinator



Boys Town National Research Hospital is an international leader in research on childhood deafness, vision and communication disorders. For 40 years, Boys Town Hospital has been dedicated to providing leading edge clinical care, pioneering translational research and improving the lives of children and their families through applied technology and educational outreach programs.