Stichting Edmond Hustinx
Edmond Hustinx foundation

Milene Bonte stipendium / scholarship

Title dissertation: Between sounds and words
PhD Graduation: October 5th, 2005
Supervisor & co-promotor: dr Leo Blomert. Promotor: prof. dr Rainer Goebel

Today I have the pleasure to announce the winner of the annual Hustinx-stipend. This price is an honor for a very promising young scientist doing research at our university. The Edmond Hustinx Foundation aims to support original young researchers with an already excellent record during the first years of their scientific career. This year the Faculty of Psychology had the opportunity to advance a candidate. A jury consisting of the faculty board and the department chairs selected Milene Bonte as the most outstanding young scientist in the last two years.
Our university has a reputation in fostering international research enterprises. The work of Milene Bonte surely is of a competitive international level as evidenced by her publications in high ranking journals, but also is genuinely international: part of her research was conducted at the world famous Low Temperature Lab in Helsinki, Finland.
But let me summarize the reasons she was elected as the winning young scientist. The experimental work she did for her dissertation introduces a new approach to the investigation of learning to read. The very first step in learning to read is the establishment of a connection between the already known speech sounds of a language and the letters of a written language. Children should thus be able to handle speech sounds automatically when they start to learn to read. Furthermore it is known that children with dyslexia, who have a problem in learning to read, show problems in handling speech sounds efficiently. However, this is as far as it goes. How we actually hear and perceive speech sounds is still largely unknown and if and how these processes go wrong in children with dyslexia has been an enigma for the last three decades. Milene therefore decided to investigate the brain responses to speech sounds in normally learning children and in children with dyslexia. In doing so she not only crossed traditional boundaries between different scientific disciplines, but she also explored a range of research methods only very recently available to neuroscientists and now also available to cognitive neuroscientists and psychologists. In this context it is noteworthy to mention that the Faculty of Psychology this year founded the Maastricht Brain Imaging Centre for cognitive euro-imaging; a milestone for psychology faculties in Europe.
Milene used electrophysiological brain responses to investigate the processing of speech sounds in normal reading and dyslexic children. This allowed her to follow the processing of the auditory speech sound in the brain bit by bit on a millisecond scale. The results revealed for the first time a clear deficit in specific aspects of the processing of speech sounds in the brains of dyslexic children. A clear starting point for a whole new line of research.
Here in Maastricht she used electrophysiological methods knows as Event Related Potentials (ERP). However her ambition also led her to one of the new methods in cognitive brain research, which is only scarcely available: magneto-encephalography (MEG). This method focuses on the changes in magnetic fields caused by neuronal action related to for example the processing of speech sounds. There is only one lab in the world famous for auditory speech processing investigated by MEG and that is the Low Temperature Lab in Helsinki. She acquired a stipend for a half year research in Helsinki and not only learned a new complex technique, but also finished an experiment on spoken language processing that is already published in “Cerebral Cortex”. In closing it should be noted that although her work is of a basic and fundamental nature, the results of this work will have a strong impact on clarifying the problems of children with reading difficulties.
In summary: Milene Bonte is a highly original and explorative young scientist, who will during the next years further develop her expertise in brain research on auditory and speech processing at the Faculty of Psychology in our university. We wish her success and congratulate her with this prestigious price.

Rector University Maastricht
Prof. dr Gerard Mols

Milene Bonte