Alejandro Lopez Valdes

Research engineer in Cognitive Hearing Science
Alejandro Lopez Valdes is originally from Mexico, but throughout his studies and work life he has been living in several countries to pursue professional goals in hearing research and to feed his drive to explore the unknown. That has taught him that needs within hearing impairment can vary not only from individual to individual but also across borders.

September 2018

What is your primary work area within Eriksholm Research Centre?

"Hearing impairment will have an impact on the listeners’ brain ability to process sound. That impact means that they may be more tired, more loaded with information, and they lose their ability to use resources for other tasks than hearing.
What I do is to help understand how hearing aids can provide a benefit for the listeners with respect to cognitive load in different projects.
My expertise would be in auditory evoked EEG. That could be doing an auditory test and measure how the brain reacts to that, and then look at the relationship between the brain measurements and what the person heard in order to establish links between brain activity and hearing processes."

How did you get interested in hearing?

"When I was doing my biomedical engineering bachelor in Mexico, I wanted to work with smart or neuro prosthesis. When I did my Master’s, which was one year in the Netherlands and one year in Ireland, I had the opportunity to work with cochlear implants which is today the most successful neural prosthesis out there.
My work was to assess whether or not we could find a marker of sound discrimination for implant users. That led me to my PhD project in Trinity College in Dublin. That is how I got involved in the world of hearing impairment. When I finished my PhD two years ago I was invited to apply for a position at Eriksholm.
My PhD had a lot in common with my work at Eriksholm. The main difference, however, is that the mode of hearing is different. At Eriksholm we are mainly looking at acoustic hearing. In the cochlear implant world there is no actual sound – instead we used electrical stimulation. My main learning at Eriksholm is dealing with hearing impairment in the acoustic domain."

What are your thoughts on living in all these different countries?

"When I am looking at hearing impairment there are two aspects to it: One thing is the physiological problem. The other thing is the social aspect of hearing loss. That is not the same from country to country. The problems are not the same.
The important thing is that there has to be research in both sections: not just in the physiological part of things but also, for example, on the social aspect of things. I am happy to belong to Eriksholm, where we have multidisciplinary groups whose projects go in different directions. We also have a lot of international partners and they provide us with research and information from other parts of the world.
For me personally, it has been a great experience to live in so many countries, and I have learned a lot. It is of course always sad to leave people and places behind, and it is tough to be away from home. When you live in different countries, the definition of home blurs. But I have been lucky enough to always meet so many supportive people. That means, for example, that I have spent Christmas in countless houses with different traditions. I have many families so to speak.
I started travelling because of the professional opportunities – those were the reason I came to Europe with my master’s program. Once I arrived, I became a little bit of a ‘junkie of the unknown’. Whenever the opportunity to try something else in a different place came up, I took it. "

What did you find especially interesting while working here?

"When I first started working at Eriksholm we were setting up a project in Hanover. The task was to help with a test platform that I had never seen before which resulted in many hours of going through other people’s work to modify it to our needs. When I was going to Hanover to set up the test it felt a little like having to use the shower in somebody else’s house. We had to find the right room, make sure we had the right tools, the right cables etc. Putting this physical setup up was fun, challenging, and nerve-wrecking, since I only had that one trip to Hanover to get everything right. It was a big responsibility. These kind of situations have made a big impression on me.
It is great to know that as a relatively new employee I had the trust of my manager to be able to carry out something like this."

What motivates you in your job?

"I have always been motivated by helping people. The prospect that what I do today at Eriksholm will benefit someone is really cool. Perhaps not tomorrow, but some day it will.
We also have a lot of students coming to Eriksholm, who look up to what we do at the research centre. Being able to help them and to make sure they leave with a good impression of what a research centre should be in my opinion is also very motivating."

What do you do in your spare time?

"There are a couple of places you can look for me if I am not at my desk: The first is Tivoli gardens. I go there very often. I love that place. It is such good break from the city.
I also love doing team sports. On Sundays you can find me in the Copenhagen park ‘Fælledparken’ playing touch rugby. It is a none contact form of rugby. On Wednesday evenings, I play football.
I also like dancing, enjoying a good meal, and a nice glass of whiskey, or Tequila for that matter. And I am an avid tea drinker. That got stuck from my time in Ireland."

What are the three most important values to you?

"Integrity: It is important to me that whatever I do I am able to live with the consequences and be able to sleep at night. That is something you can’t do without integrity. You should know who you are, and what is good for you.

Family is another value even though it sounds a bit ironic when I am so far away from mine. But families can be found anywhere. To me family means community, care, love, and understanding. This understanding came to me through my own family.

Responsibility: I think you have to be responsible for what you do no matter the circumstances of the choice."

What is the most exciting scientific breakthrough in your lifetime?

"The affordability of computational power that has allowed for the spread of information technology is one of the best things that has happened in my lifetime. It allowed for access to information, accelerated discoveries, and more daring approaches to different problems, because we have more affordable ways to tackle them. It used to be very exclusive to have a computer – now the technology is on your phone. Not everything is pink and pretty of course. The more information the more noise you will also have to dig through."

What do you hope will happen in future science?

"If tele-transportation was made affordable or realizable that would be great. Then I could go home whenever I wanted.
When it comes to hearing, I would like people who lost the enjoyment of hearing to be able to get it back. We focus a lot on the problem with understanding speech thinking that it is what everybody needs. But maybe you would rather be able to enjoy music than understand speech. I wish there would be this flexibility to choose what you want to be better at in hearing care."

If you want to know more about Alejandro's professional background and the reserach he has done go to his Linkedin profile or Researchgate profile.

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