Auerbach, Team Awarded Grant to Improve Health and Education with Music

Scott Auerbach
Scott Auerbach

Scott Auerbach, chemistry and former director of the iCons program, is part of a multi-disciplinary, multi-institution team awarded a $100,000 grant from the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative (NAKFI), a project of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

The grant and 10 others were awarded on June 15 to support interdisciplinary projects related to art and science, engineering and medicine frontier collaborations, the subject of the 13th annual NAKFI conference that was held in Huntington Beach, Calif., in November.

“These grants are meant to fill a funding gap for big, new ideas,” said Auerbach.

At the 2015 NAKFI conference, Auerbach’s team was challenged to improve health and education with music. The team includes the lead principal investigator psychology professor Petr Janata of the University of California, Davis; music professor Jonathan Berger of Stanford University; mechanical engineering professor Kiju Lee of Case Western Reserve, and visualization/graphics professor André Thomas of Texas A&M. They proposed to develop and test an electronic device that facilitates “entrainment,” the process of several people coming together in percussive synchronization.

Psychology studies have shown that entrainment enhances empathy, compassion and collaboration. The problem is that not everybody has sufficient musical ability to reap the benefits of entrainment. Auerbach’s team plans to develop and test the hardware and software for an adaptive metronome that can facilitate entrainment, both for localized groups and also for delocalized networks of participants. They call their future machine the “groove enhancement machine” or GEM. They plan to test the impact of the GEM on the ability of school children to participate in team learning activities.

“This is an exciting opportunity to work in a wonderful team of brilliant collaborators on an important problem,” Auerbach said. “It’s also a fun opportunity to put into practice aspects of the iCons collaboration and problem-solving paradigm.”