Making music with CT scans
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.