Mak­ing mu­sic with CT scans

Modern Healthcare - - OUTLIERS ASIDES & INSIDES -

Dr. Robert Howe first learned how com­put­er­ized to­mog­ra­phy could make pre­cise 3-D im­ages of body parts. Then the stu­dent of mu­sic his­tory re­al­ized the same CT scan­ning tech­nol­ogy could help him study del­i­cate mu­si­cal in­stru­ments from the past.

Howe, a re­pro­duc­tive en­docri­nol­o­gist in East Long­meadow, Mass., who is also a doc­toral stu­dent in mu­sic the­ory and his­tory at the Univer­sity of Con­necti­cut, last year brought his idea to mu­sic the­ory pro­fes­sor Richard Bass, who con­tacted Sina Shah­baz­mo­hamadi, an engi­neer and the school’s direc­tor for ad­vanced 3-D imag­ing.

To­gether, they de­vel­oped a process for us­ing CT scan­ning tech­nol­ogy not only to make im­ages of those an­cient in­stru­ments, but also to print 3-D copies of parts that will al­low more of them to be played. And they’ve be­gun seek­ing a patent for that process. A break­through by Shah­baz­mo­hamadi al­lowed the team to scan metal and wood at the same time. That al­lowed them to get ex­act 3-D im­ages of items such as a mouth­piece from one of the first sax­o­phones made by Adolphe Sax in the 19th cen­tury.

“Only three orig­i­nal mouth­pieces are known to ex­ist in the en­tire world,” Howe said.

Paul Cohen, a sax­o­phon­ist who teaches at New York Univer­sity, said Howe’s work could go a long way to­ward help­ing ex­perts un­der­stand what cen­turies-old mu­sic was meant to sound like.

The Con­necti­cut team scanned the orig­i­nal mouth­piece and, af­ter some ex­per­i­men­ta­tion in den­sity, pro­duced a plas­tic replica on a 3-D prin­ter that can be fit­ted to the orig­i­nal sax­o­phone.

“This is pretty darned good, and it’s an $18 piece,” Howe said. “The tech­nol­ogy is not only very, very ac­cu­rate, but very in­ex­pen­sive.”

The same tech­nol­ogy could even­tu­ally be used to make copies of en­tire in­stru­ments or to re­pair bro­ken ones. With the com­puter tech­nol­ogy, flaws in the orig­i­nal can be fixed, Shah­baz­mo­hamadi said.

Dr. Robert Howe and his col­leagues have used CT scans and 3-D print­ing to du­pli­cate mouth­pieces from the first sax­o­phone.

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