Widening STEM opportunities for hearing-challenged students
Tilak Ratnanather, associate research professor of biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins, has earned a reputation as a remarkable scientist, researcher, role model, and mentor.
Born with probable damage to his inner ear, Ratnanather was fitted with hearing aids at an early age and attended schools for the deaf through high school. His family moved from Sri Lanka to London due to England’s superior system of education for the deaf. Ratnanather attended University College London, where he became its first congenitally, profoundly deaf student to pursue an undergraduate degree in mathematics.
He then entered the DPhil mathematics program at the University of Oxford, where, in 1989, he completed his doctoral research in numerical analysis of fluid flows. That was another first. At the time, Ratnanather was the only congenitally and profoundly deaf individual in the world to graduate with a doctorate in mathematics.
In 1990, Tilak crossed paths with Bill Brownell, a professor in the Department of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Brownell recruited Ratnanather to do postdoctoral studies in his department and in Biomedical Engineering under Aleksander Popel, with a focus on hearing biomechanics. Tilak made his mark as an expert and a major contributor, especially in the area of mathematical modeling of electromechanical transduction by outer hair cells in the cochlea.