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Seed Projects

Encouraging new collaborations for expressive projects

Announcing the Class of 2013 Seed Projects:

Investigation of Creative Insight and Improvisational Expression by Noninvasive Brain Stimulation

The Exci-tDCS project seeks to expand scientific horizons on the neural basis of creative thought. The ExCITe seed grant has allowed the Creativity Research Laboratory to expand our studies on creativity and insight to one the most real-world expressions of human creativity: musical improvisation.

We are interested in how creative improvisation can be affected - and even enhanced - by a new form of brain stimulation, called transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS). In tDCS, a safe and mild amount of electric current is applied to the scalp and travels into the cortex, changing the way neurons fire in that region. Instead of measuring brain activity while people do different tasks, tDCS lets us directly encourage or inhibit activity in different regions of the brain - and study how people's behavior changes as a result. This is an especially useful technique for studying very complex behavior where each performance is unique, like musical improvisation.

In this study, jazz pianists improvise while being exposed to tDCS targeting frontal brain areas which support self-monitoring and the “inner critic” of self-awareness. These brain areas are associated with creativity, creative problem solving and insight across domains. By modulating these areas, we are attempting to influence the choices an improviser makes - for instance, whether musicians choose to "play it safe" and use habitual responses or spontaneously create novel solos, a more “risk taking” behavior. Experts with years of jazz teaching experience will rate the improvisations on a number of factors, providing expert evaluation of the performances and the influence of brain stimulation.

Meanwhile, the improvisers will undergo a battery of psychological tests to give insight into the effects of individual personality and temperament on improvisation and tDCS - after all, music is personal! The Exci-tDCS project also tests the musicians on a range of cognitive tasks to assess the effects of tDCS on verbal creativity and strength of "cognitive inhibition", or ability to inhibit an automatic response. We will also examine the relationship between the effects of tDCS on musical and verbal tasks.

Brain stimulation has an excellent safety record and is increasingly popular as a treatment for aphasia, depression, and other clinical conditions. In the future, the present research may help to advance a science that can enhance normal cognition. Nothing substitutes for practicing - but tDCS could, eventually, be able to assist in areas like reinforcing creative strategies during training and improving the speed and effectiveness of practice.

The Exci-tDCS project begins testing improvisers this month and will continue throughout the spring term. Our setup includes an 88-key semi-weighted MIDI controller, flat response headphones and the MAGSTIM tDCS DC-stimulator. Testing is ongoing at the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania, in collaboration with Roy Hamilton MD. MS., director of the Laboratory for Cognitive and Neural Stimulation. The Exci-tDCS project is run by David Rosen and Brian Erickson, Ph.D. candidates in the Applied Brain and Cognitive Sciences program at Drexel University, and is advised by ACBS program director, John Kounios, Ph.D.

Sendai Transmissions

Working with an interdisciplinary team, the composer and director Gene Coleman will develop “Systole,” an audio-visual composition based on the architecture of Toyo Ito’s Sendai Mediatheque. Utilizing the Excite Center's Magnetic Resonator Piano, this work brings together music composition, architecture, computer animation, cinema, and fractal geometry.

Biologically-inspired Sensing Platform for Proprioception in Flexible Robotic Membranes

The objective of this work is to develop a textile-based stretch sensor with applications to wearable electronics, bio-inspired robotics, and haptics.

A prototype of a robotic fish fin and early attempts at adding fabric sensors to sense stretch in the fabric. Collaboration with Professor Genevieve Dion in the Shima Seiki Laboratory and funding through the ExCITe Seed Grant enabled prototyping efforts in precise placement of sensors and repeatable wiring of conduits to advance sensing in flexible materials. Designs of stretch sensors were created with computer models and prototyped in the Shima Seiki lab. Early testing and sensor characterization showed success of the proof of concept.

Project Team: Work was conducted by Professor Genevieve Dion of the Shima Seiki Haute Technology Laboratory, Jeff Kahn and Professor James Tangorra of the Laboratory of Biological Systems Analysis, and Professor Yon Visell of the RE Touch Laboratory.