Col. Brandon Thompson has won the nationally competitive and prestigious Briggs Dissertation Award for his dissertation, “Development and Human Factors Evaluation of a Portable Auditory Localization Acclimation Training System.”

Sponsored by Division 21 of the American Psychological Association, the award is presented annually to the most distinguished dissertation in the field of applied experimental and engineering psychology.

Thompson, who is from Jacksonville, Florida, is currently serving in the U.S. Army as an assistant professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He received his Ph.D. in May 2020 from the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering with a concentration in human factors engineering. 

His dissertation covered an evolving area of engineering psychology known as auditory situation awareness, with emphasis on the measurement and training of humans’ ability to detect and localize sounds in their vicinity, both with the innate sense of natural, unoccluded hearing, and under the use of hearing protection and headsets.

Thompson designed and developed the Portable Auditory Localization Acclimation Training System (PALAT), a system that can be used in an office or military setting to efficiently train subjects to localize certain sounds of interest. The system can also be used to test human subjects with various hearing protectors and headsets to objectively determine their effects on localization, before devices are procured and deployed in actual workplaces or in combat. 

“From his personal experience as a career Army officer with front-line deployments to Middle Eastern conflicts, Col. Thompson knew firsthand the implications surrounding the critical need for a keen auditory sense in soldiers,” said John Casali, professor of industrial and systems engineering and Thompson’s advisor. “He had personally experienced the deleterious effects of wearing both passive and electronic hearing protectors on his and his squadron’s auditory situation awareness. 

“He also recognized that after the fundamental task of sound detection, the most important auditory task is localization, not just for soldiers but also for civilian workers in dangerous, dynamic jobs such as road construction and for civilians in non-occupational settings as well, like those trying to locate a siren when driving or use a backup alarm or bicycle bell when walking.”

Thompson’s system is now being used by three military and security force facilities for testing with real end users. “The long-term goals of this study and similar auditory studies conducted at Virginia Tech are to increase auditory situation awareness while maintaining the appropriate level of hearing protection,” said Thompson. “It is very encouraging to contribute to solving this challenge for military service members and other professions where hearing protection and localization are vital.”

“Col. Thompson’s development and fabrication of the PALAT system was the most innovative and comprehensive effort of experimental apparatus development that I have witnessed, at the Ph.D. level, in our human factors program at Virginia Tech,” Casali said. 

Thompson has been invited to give an oral presentation on his work this August during the Division 21 program at the 2022 American Psychological Association Convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

Thompson received his bachelor’s degree in systems engineering from the U.S. Military Academy, a master’s degree in systems engineering from Georgia Tech, and a second master’s degree and doctorate in industrial and systems engineering from Virginia Tech with a concentration in human factors engineering.

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