John Casali, the John Grado Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, was awarded the Outstanding Hearing Conservationist Award from the National Hearing Conservation Association (NHCA) at its recent annual conference.

Established in 1990, the award is presented to a person whose work greatly contributes to the prevention of hearing loss from noise and other causes, according to the association. Only one award is given each year.

Casali’s research focuses on psychoacoustics, hearing conservation and hearing protection technology, auditory displays and warnings, speech communications in noise, vehicle simulation, driving and flight safety, human factors engineering, and ergonomics.

In a profile published in the NHCA periodical Spectrum, Casali is commended for his wide range of research approaches. “John’s contributions to hearing conservation have extended well beyond hearing protector design and utilization. His research has guided us in aspects of measuring performance, such as comparing physical (microphone in real ear) vs. psychophysical procedures (rear-ear attenuation at threshold), estimating the differences between field and real-world attenuation.” Casali’s work has helped revise how hearing protection products are tested in real-world commercial, military, and recreational conditions, the article stated.

The honor was presented at the NHCA’s annual meeting in February 2009 where Casali also received the Outstanding Lecture Award for his presentation of the paper, “Hearing protection and hearing enhancement in one device: Perspective of the soldier whose ears and life depend upon it.”

The Outstanding Lecture Award was based on the audience ratings of more than 300 industry and academic experts listening to three days worth of paper presentations at the 2008 NHCA conference. Casali’s report focused on a U.S. Department of Defense commissioned study involving the use of hearing protection devices designed to reduce the high-decibel noise levels – such as those from gunfire -- in combat, but allowing for soldiers to hear vital sounds, such as communications from other soldiers and threat-related noises.

In-field research was conducted using members of the Virginia Tech Army Corps of Cadets at the training lanes of the Radford Army Ammunition Plant, a U.S. Army facility located in Radford, Va., roughly 20 minutes from the Blacksburg campus of Virginia Tech. Casali said the research led to his engineering-based recommendations for both ergonomic and acoustical improvements to the devices that could be used by U.S. soldiers in Iraq an Afghanistan. Casali also reported that hearing loss is a significant problem among U.S. Army veterans, with estimates ranging as high as 40 percent of all soldiers so affected.

The Outstanding Lecture Award carries a monetary prize of $250, which Casali donated to the NHCA Scholarship Foundation in an effort to ensure the education of new hearing conservation researchers. Casali previously won the award in 1991.

Casali’s interest in acoustical studies and hearing protection research began in earnest: During summer breaks while attending college, he worked in a West Virginia deep-mined coal preparation plant, where high noise levels were prominent. While the early forms of ear protection did reduce noise levels, they also inhibited Casali from hearing the warning alarms on coal trucks and other vehicles that were moving about his work area. This inspired his research and development efforts of ear protection devices which cut noise while improving the wearer’s situation awareness.

Casali is a longtime Hokie. He earned his undergraduate degree in psychology in 1977, and master’s and doctorate degrees in industrial engineering and operations research in 1979 and 1982, respectively, all from Virginia Tech. After graduation, he joined the College of Engineering faculty, was promoted to full professor after nine years, and from 1996 to 2002, served as the head of the industrial and systems engineering department. During his chairmanship, the department rose to its highest national level on U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of undergraduate industrial and systems engineering programs, and became endowed as the Grado Department.

He founded and directs the Auditory Systems Laboratory and co-directs the Vehicle and Aircraft Simulation Laboratory at Virginia Tech. Casali served as NHCA president in 2007.

Casali is the recipient of Virginia Tech’s 2002 Alumni Award for Research Excellence and the 2002 College of Engineering Award for Outreach Excellence. Additional awards he has won include the Jack A. Kraft and Paul M. Fitts awards from the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) and the Institute of Industrial Engineer’s David Baker Award.

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