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CT Scans Help Diagnose Ailing Musical Instruments

August 4, 2014
Written by: , Filed in: Diagnostic Imaging
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CT scans can guide not only the treatment of injured people but also the repair of damaged musical instruments, thanks to 3-D printers. Researchers at the University of Connecticut have been using CT to look deep inside antique instruments and even print replacement parts.

They got the idea from Robert S. Howe, MD, a gynecologist and reproductive endocrinologist in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts. Dr. Howe is also a doctoral student in music theory and history at UConn. He teamed with a music-theory professor and an engineer, using software and a 3-D printer to convert the CT scans into precise plastic replicas of instrument parts. Dr. Howe said he expects the field to be hot:

The universal availability of 3-D printing, which is happening as we wait, will make all this work very relevant, and not just for musical instruments. The ability to measure and replicate items that are difficult to measure and replicate is going to explode.

Dr. Howe was quoted in an Associated Press story. He is one of the authors of a presentation about the research that is scheduled to be delivered in October at the Americas Amira-Avizo User Group Meeting 2014 in Boston. (The researchers use Avizo Fire 3-D analysis software to prepare the CT data for printing.) The presenter will be Sina Shahbazmohamadi, PhD, an engineer who is the 3-D imaging lab manager for UConn’s Center for Hardware Assurance, Security, and Engineering.

Dr. Shahbazmohamadi has developed techniques that allow CT to capture the intricacies of delicate old instruments. The researchers learned, for example, that the construction of an 18th-century English horn was much more complicated than had been thought., involving a complex array of bores and wooden pins. Conventional X-ray wouldn’t have shown all the detail because the pins were the same material as the rest of the horn.

The team has also scanned a mouthpiece from one of the first saxophones, created by the irascible Belgian musical instrument maker Adolphe Sax in the mid–19th century. The researchers printed plastic versions in sizes to fit various members of the saxophone family, from the booming bass sax to the tiny sopranino.

“If they can accurately reproduce the dimensions in the mouthpiece that Adolphe Sax himself invented,” said Paul Cohen, a saxophonist and saxophone historian who teaches at New York University, “it would be of fundamental, seminal importance in understanding our instrument.”

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Related CME seminar (up to 42.75 AMA PRA Category 1 credits™): UCSF Radiology Review: Comprehensive Imaging


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