Date of Award

Winter 12-18-2021

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mechanical Engineering


Xudong Zheng

Second Committee Member

Qian Xue

Third Committee Member

Wilhelm “Alex” Friess

Additional Committee Members

Kimberly Huguenard

Coen Elemans


While many may take it for granted, the human voice is an incredible feat. An average person can produce a great variety of voices and change voice characteristics agilely even without formal training. Last several decades of research has established that the production of voice is largely a mechanical process: i.e., the sustained vibration of the vocal folds driven by the glottal air flow. Since one only has a single pair of vocal folds, the versatility comes with the ability to change the mechanical status of the vocal folds, including vocal fold length and thickness, tension, and level of adduction, through activation of the laryngeal muscles. However, the relationship between laryngeal muscle activity and the characteristics of voice is not well understood due to limitations in experimental observation and simplifications in modelling and simulations. The science is still far behind the art. The current research aims to investigate first the relationship between laryngeal muscle activation and the posture of the vocal folds and second the relationship between voice source characteristics and vocal fold mechanical status using more comprehensive numerical models and simulations, thus improving the understanding of the roles of each laryngeal muscle in voice control. To do so, (1) the mechanics involved in vocal fold posturing and vibration, especially muscle contraction; (2) the realistic anatomical structure of the larynx must be considered properly. To achieve this goal, a numerical model of the larynx as realistic as possible was built. The geometry of the laryngeal components was reconstructed from high resolution MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) data of an excised canine larynx, which makes more accurate the representation of the muscles and their sub-compartments, cartilages, and other important anatomical features of the larynx. A previously proposed muscle activation model was implemented in a 3D finite element package and applied to the larynx model to simulate the action of laryngeal muscles. After validation of the numerical model against experimental data, extensive parametric studies involving different combination of muscle activations were conducted to investigate how the voice source is controlled with laryngeal muscles. In the course of this study, some work was done to couple the same finite element tool with a Genetic Algorithm program to inversely determine model parameters in biomechanical models. The method was applied in a collaborated study on shape changes of a fish fin during swimming. This study is presented as a separate chapter at the end of this thesis. The method has potential application in determining parameters in vocal fold models and optimizing clinical vocal fold procedures. This thesis is essentially an assembly of the papers published by the author during the doctoral study, with the addition of an introductory chapter. Chapter 1 reviews the overall principles of voice production, the biomechanical basis of voice control, and past studies on voice control with a focus on the fundamental frequency. Chapter 2 describes the major numerical methods employed in this research with an emphasis on the finite element method. The muscle activation model is also described in this chapter. Chapter 3 describes the building of the larynx model from MRI data and its partial validation. Chapter 4 presents the application of the larynx model to posturing studies, including parametric activation of muscle groups and specific topics related to vocal fold posturing. Chapter 5 describes the change of vocal fold vibration dynamics under the influence of the interaction of the cricothyroid muscle and the thyroarytenoid muscle. The Flow-structure interaction simulations was realized by coupling the larynx model to a simple Bernoulli flow model and a two-stage simulation technique. Chapter 6 concludes the current thesis study. Suggestions for future studies are proposed. Chapter 7 is an independent study that is not related to voice control. It describes a numerical framework that inversely determines and validates model parameters of biomechanical models. The application of the proposed framework to a finite element model of a fish fin is presented.