Paula Tallal, Rutgers Board of Governors Professor of Neuroscience, has been named Inventor of the Year by the NJ Inventors Hall of Fame for her work bringing positive change to over 3 million children and adults with theÂ Fast ForWord program.
Dr Tallal is one of just 4 inventors being honored with this award on October 18 â the Hall of Fame recognises âinventive achievements which have had a positive effect on society.â
âFor scientists, our life goal is to discover things of importance. That my scientific work contributed to inventingFast ForWord, a series of individually adaptive computer games that enhance childrenâs cognitive, language and literacy skills, is beyond my wildest dream,â stated Tallal. âIt is my hope that being named the Inventor of the Year by the NJ Inventorâs Hall of Fame will result in getting Fast ForWord programs to even more children who can benefit from them.â
Rutgers-Newark Interim Chancellor Phil Yeagle describes Tallal as a âgiant at the center of dramatic advances in understanding the learning process. Her âFast ForWordâ invention is revolutionizing learningÂ for ever expanding populations.â
Tallal has spent more than 30 years researching the links between auditory processing, attention, memory and language and found thatÂ timing in the brain is critical 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 âdaâ and âba.â To learn how to read effectively, a child must become aware that words can be broken down into sounds, and that letters represent these sounds.
Tallal and her colleagues hypothesized that the brainâs neuroplasticity (itâs ability to change and reorganise), could be used toÂ rewire neural networksÂ toÂ increase processing speedÂ and henceÂ improve language and literacyÂ skills â or to âfire and wireâ as she describes it.
Fast ForWord improves language and literacy skillsÂ by training the brain to handleÂ 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 Tallalâs research colleague Dr. Steve L. Miller.