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Keck Futures-Funded Research Could Help the Musically Challenged

Making music together can deepen social bonds, fostering compassion and empathy among the players. But not everyone is ready, or physically able, to join a drumming circle or even clap along. A UC Davis cognitive neuroscientist who studies the psychology of music is leading a team in developing an assistive device to help the musically challenged synch their sounds.
Keck Futures-Funded Research Could Help the Musically Challenged

Petr Janata

Petr Janata, professor in the Department of Psychology and the Center for Mind and Mind, and colleagues have received a $100,000 grant to develop the “groove enhancement machine” and study its effectiveness in improving social interactions.

The grant was among 11 awards announced Wednesday by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine under its National Academies Keck Futures Initiative to support “bold, new ideas” and interdisciplinary research collaborations. This year’s seed grants, supported by the W.M. Keck Foundation, focus on the intersection of art and science.

“We believe that the portfolio of collaborations selected will impact how we live today, and how we think about tomorrow,” said David A. Edwards, steering committee chair and Gordon McKay Professor of the Practice of Idea Translation at Harvard University.

Janata and colleagues aim to build a prototype device with a computer program that will blend musical sounds from up to four individuals, synchronizing their timing. 

Collaborators are Jonathan Berger, a music professor at Stanford University; Kiju Lee, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at at Case Western Reserve University; Scott Auerbach, a chemist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; and André Thomas, an expert in computer-generated graphics at Texas A&M University.

Their project grew out of a discussion at a Futures conference, Art and Science, Engineering, and Medicine Frontier Collaborations: Ideation, Translation and Realization, held in Irvine last November. "The workshop was unlike any other I had ever experienced," Janata said. "It’s not every day that one has the opportunity to brainstorm creatively within a very well-organized, aesthetically minded, and demanding setting created by the foremost intellectual institutions in the country."