Interactive lab explores music’s scientific potential

Before the iPod, the Sony Walkman or the home stereo system, music was something people made and experienced with other people.

The universal nature of music-making, which occurs in every culture throughout the ages, suggests evolution may have wired us for it, and that the survival benefit it confers has something to do with the way social groups cohere. But such ideas are speculative and the social dimension of music remains largely unexplored.

Now, researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton are aiming to change that with an $8-million facility unique in the world. The novel laboratory they’ve created will explore the interactive side of music-making with an unprecedented rigour – and it will serve as a tool for a wide range of other research applications from engineering better hearing aids to optimizing presentations to better hold an audience’s attention.

“We expect to find all kinds of things that we just never dreamed of that are going on in these complex interactions,” said Laurel Trainor, a neuroscientist and director of the LIVELab (short for Large Interactive Virtual Environment), which officially opens its doors this week.

In essence, LIVElab is a conventional stage and seating area backed by a powerful combination of high-tech gadgetry for recording and cleverly manipulating the way entire groups of people experience music and other forms of performance or presentation. The sound system can be adjusted to simulate a range of acoustic environments from classrooms to cathedrals.

Although music originated as a social activity, scientific research on music and human cognition had tended to focus on individuals. This is largely because the subtle cues and reactions that occur among musicians as they perform – and between the musicians and their audiences – are difficult to capture in a controlled research setting.

Nearly a decade in the making, the facility was funded through the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario government and McMaster. Nothing quite so ambitious has been tried before in the field of music studies and the research possibilities have experts taking notice.

“It’s really an extraordinary achievement,” said Katie Overy, of the Reid School of Music at the University of Edinburgh. “The attention to detail is evident in every inch of the design.”

Dr. Overy, currently a visiting professor at the University of Western Ontario where she is working on research related to musical learning, said she hopes to makes use of the lab for pilot studies.

Just entering the LIVELab is a sensory experience. The space is accessed through a “sound lock” which separates participants from the outside world. The room sits on rubber pads to reduce vibrations and is nested inside a suspended concrete shell, which blocks external noise down to a threshold of 10 decibels. Inside, oversized ductwork keeps air circulating without a sound.

In other words, it can be very, very quiet.

In its “off” setting, the room is also entirely dead. The walls and surfaces are designed to absorb sound, so that music and voices are swallowed up without any trace of an echo.

“It’s our blank slate,” Dr. Trainor said in the LIVELab earlier this month.

Then Dan Bosnyak, a research scientist and the lab’s technical director, brought the room to life with a few taps on an iPad. Suddenly an array of microphones and speakers located all around us were sensing and re-projecting our voices, adding a pleasant resonance that perfectly reproduced the experience of being in a small theatre or church.

Such tricks have been employed commercially to enhance the acoustics of various spaces. But in the LIVELab, the sound system is coupled with a battery of infrared cameras that can track performers and audience members in real time and digitize their body movements as they react to music and other stimuli. The lab also has the capacity to measure the brain waves of up to 30 participants at once through electroencephalography (EEG).

“The great thing about the LIVELab is that it’s very flexible. You can mould the space to fit the project,” said Matt Woolhouse, a faculty member at McMaster’s School of the Arts who is planning a study of dance therapy for Parkinson’s patients.

By its nature, the set up invites researchers to explore musical questions that have previously been inaccessible to science. For example, they can study how members of a jazz ensemble or a string quartet react to one another while a performance unfolds, or measure how much the physical expressiveness of a musician influences the way her music is perceived by an audience.

All of it involves the broader question of how human brains work together around a shared activity, which puts the lab at the cutting edge of social cognitive science.

“The lab will undoubtedly become a major centre for inquiry in human thinking and behaviour,” said Robert Duke, director of the Center for Music Learning at the University of Texas at Austin.

For this reason, the space is also attracting interest from marketing and arts groups interested in what it can tell them about group experiences. Dr. Trainor said the lab would ideally be used for commercial projects about one-third of the time to help support its research activities.

“What this space really comes down to is studying interactions,” Dr. Trainor said.

In the process, it may finally reveal what compels humans to gather in groups and make music.

All together now.

See the full article at The Globe and Mail

Majority of Canadian med students come from 6 schools

When it comes to applying for medical school, competition can be fierce, and the question of which school to attend for a pre-med program can be a tough one. Maclean’s recently took a look at the first-year cohort attending Canada’s 14 English and bilingual medical schools to determine where the students had most recently studied, finding that a majority (78%) had attended an institution with a medical school on campus. More than half (52%) attended one of 6 schools—McMaster University, University of Toronto, Western University, McGill University, University of British Columbia, and University of Alberta.

Although these schools are known to be difficult, and therefore potentially one might graduate with a lower average, university administrators insist that they do not favour graduates from one school over another. Grades are making up less of the admissions criteria too, with things like MCAT performance, awards, past employment, volunteer activities, and other criteria rising in influence. The bottom line: students shouldn’t worry about avoiding the “hard schools,” but they also shouldn’t worry if they attend a smaller school, so long as they make sure to “round out their education with a rich resume.”

Check out the full article at MACLEANS.

New program trains biomedical scientists with business savvy

Applications are now being accepted for a unique McMaster program which offers students the opportunity to train in biomedical science and business at the same time.

Third-year students have until Oct. 22 to apply for January entry into the new Biomedical Discovery and Commercialization (BDC) Bachelor/Master’s program offered by the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Science with contributions by the DeGroote School of Business.

An information session will be held on Thursday, Sept. 18 at 6:30 p.m. in MDCL 3020.

The program, open to students who have completed two years in science or health sciences, includes two years to finish an honours Bachelor of Health Sciences degree, followed by one year for the course-based master’s degree. The 12-month master’s program has a four-month internship in the health sciences sector.

Although the program begins in September 2015, an accelerated start has been arranged which will see about 15 students start in January 2015. Those students will be prepared to begin the fourth year of the program next fall.

“This is a multidisciplinary training program, concentrated in the biomedical sciences, which will produce graduates with strong discovery research skills, street smarts and business savvy,” said Eric Brown, director of the program and a professor of biochemistry and biomedical science.

“The career options and relevance of this program will be a lightning rod for students wanting an exciting future. We’ve met enthusiasm for this program from all, so we decided to get started right away.”

He said the program will be reaching out to the commercial health sciences sector for involvement as guest lecturers and community mentors.

Brown pointed to the current impact of the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors on the Canadian economy, and their anticipated growth, adding: “These students will become Canada’s biomedical scientists who lead in discovery and commerce.”

Courses in the program range from drug discovery and development, and laboratory research skills to accounting for decision making and applied marketing. Innovative educational methods of experiential, inquiry and team-based learning approaches will be the hallmark of the program.

More information on the program, including how to apply, may be found at

See the full article at McMaster Daily News.

Spectrum to help student entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life

Do you want to be your own boss?

If so, you’re about to get a boost from a new University entrepreneurship program.

Spectrum will help student entrepreneurs recruit team members, attract funds and connect with mentors.

The program will officially open Sept. 10 with a talk by engineering alumnus Matt Gardner, co-founder of Videostream.

The tech startup’s product wirelessly sends full HD video from your computer to your TV, and is used by more than 400,000 people.

“It all started in 7th grade,” Gardner says. “I realized that pop at Costco was half the price that it was in our school’s vending machine — so I filled my locker.”

Gardner continued to start small businesses throughout his time at McMaster, and after getting into software, says a tech startup “just made sense.”

In addition to alumni speakers like Gardner, Spectrum will also host an event with past participants of The Next 36, as well as how-to sessions on specific aspects of entrepreneurism.

In March, Spectrum will host a student startup competition, during which it plans to award $50,000 as well as in-kind resources.

The program’s kickoff event is scheduled for Sept. 10 at 5 p.m. at TwelvEighty Bar and Grill.

See more at Daily News McMaster.

City open to giving downtown parking lot for McMaster expansion

The city is willing to give up a downtown parking lot for McMaster University’s bid to expand and bring hundreds of new students and faculty to the core.

The latest city donation of land to the university, likely a parking parcel worth up to $3.2 million, will only happen if McMaster beats out other institutions in a competition for provincial expansion cash.

A detailed presentation from university president Patrick Deane helped win over councillors who had indignantly rejected a surprise motion last month that some called a “blindsiding” request for more municipal cash.

This term, council has already given $20 million toward a downtown Mac health campus and $4 million in land for a new bioresearch complex at the McMaster Innovation Park.

Deane apologized for the “premature” August request and encouraged councillors to see the benefits of adding to the growing “downtown hub” of university operations, including around 100 permanent staff and hundreds of new health and engineering students.

“This would bring considerable economic benefits to the city (despite) foregone tax revenues,” he said, referring to the fact universities don’t pay property taxes.

City staff identified three potential parking properties to donate, including one behind City Hall, another on Vine Street and one on John Street. The estimated property values range from $1.8 million to $3.2 million.

City manager Chris Murray assured councillors there would be “no net loss of parking” after construction is done.

Ward Councillor Jason Farr reminded council of its “mandate” for downtown revitalization. “This is a partnership; this is economic uplift.”

See the full article at the Hamilton Spectator.

McMaster’s Success Bodes Well For Hamilton

We should all be celebrating the latest news that McMaster University has once again been ranked as one of the Top 100 universities in the world.

For the record, Mac is number 90, up two spots from last year.

If you think that McMaster’s high ranking only matters to students, you would be wrong.

In the old days, industry would locate where the raw materials existed for manufacturing.

Well, in the 21st century, the raw material that companies are looking for is knowledge, and these rankings show the world that McMaster and Hamilton are prime locations.

In fact, it’s already happening.

McMaster Innovation Park and the McMaster Automotive Research Centre are already attracting internationally renowned companies and researchers.

McMaster’s medical research teams are world class and the Business school is producing young, innovative entrepreneurs who are creating new companies and new jobs..

That’s why we should all be excited about McMaster and Mohawk and Redeemer and Columbia.

Our educational facilities are more than just great  institutions of learning; they’re a big part of  Hamilton’s economic future.

See the full article at 900CHML

McMaster moves up in world university rankings

An influential international ranking of the world’s universities has placed McMaster at number 90 among the world’s universities.

The Shanghai Jiao Tong Academic Ranking of World Universities has moved McMaster up to No. 90 from 92 in 2013, making it one of just four Canadian schools in the Top 100, with the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia and McGill.

In total, the ranking placed 21 Canadian universities among the world’s top 500 institutions — a drop from 2013, when 23 Canadian institutions made the top 500.

There are an estimated 16,000 universities in the world.

“This ranking serves to confirm what other rankings have established over the years – that McMaster University is consistently considered to be among one of the best in Canada, and in the world,” said McMaster president Patrick Deane. “Only three other Canadian cities have a university in the Top 100.  It is certainly a strong way to help Hamilton build its national and global reputation and to attract innovators and new business opportunities to our city.”

Among the specific results, McMaster’s Social Sciences programs ranked 48th worldwide.

Since 2003, Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s Center for World-Class Universities has released an annual ranking of the world’s top 500 universities. The ranking is based on an assessment of each university’s quality of education, faculty and research output.

A few of the many reasons that McMaster makes the grade:

McMaster’s Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research is one of only a few such centres in the world.

Canada’s most influential scientist is a professor at McMaster. Salim Yusuf is a professor of cardiology and head of the Population Health Research Institute. This year he was named winner of the prestigious Canada Gairdner Wightman Award for outstanding contributions to medical research.

McMaster’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine created problem-based learning and evidence-based medicine, which have been adopted at medical schools around the world.

McMaster research nuclear reactor is one of the world’s largest suppliers of the medical radioisotope iodine-125, used for the treatment of prostate cancer. The reactor is also used to inspect the turbine blades of almost all jetliners in North America.

The McMaster Automotive Resource Centre is developing technology to make cars more efficient and safer, bringing investment and jobs to Hamilton.

See the full article at Daily News McMaster

Embracing Moods and Moments

They could have been just cutesy pictures of children. But sparse, daring compositions lift Amanda Immurs’ paintings above the ordinary.

She’s one of many wonderful artists to be found in the latest Art in the Workplace exhibition at McMaster Innovation Park. On show are more than 200 paintings, sculptures, photographs, prints and ceramics created by emerging and established local artists.

Immurs works with a variety of subjects, styles and materials. She is especially known for her paintings of children, three of which are in this exhibition.

“I get my inspiration for the children from many places,” she told me. “Mostly I use photos that I have taken on my travels. Many times I work with these on the computer in order to plan out what I like.”

“The paintings start with a sketch onto canvas followed by a ground of acrylic. I work with oil on top of this but most of the time I come back on top with drawing mediums like pencil and or marker.”

Immurs’ narratives are minimal, left to the viewer’s imagination.

Girl with Chair consists simply of a dark-haired girl, a ribbon tied in a bow below her chin, beside a wooden chair. We see only the upper parts of the two. And they occupy only the lower half of the painting. The rest is a bright blue space. Is it an interior, or not?

And the relationship between child and chair is tenuous. She looks rightward, moving our attention away from the chair and out of the picture.

We have no idea what the child is doing with her hands, or whether she is sitting or standing. We don’t know what the rest of the chair looks like, either.

Immurs says she is not painting a portrait.

“My main concern is to capture a moment or mood,” she says. “I really like how inquisitive children are.”

Dylan Swan, who paints urban and natural landscapes, takes to the outdoors in Killarney Lake. Two trees frame the view of the lake in the distance. Swan builds up a highly textured, animated surface. The twisty roots of trees, the broken, agitated lines of the rocks, and the rounded, swirling shapes of the clouds all echo nature’s dynamism.

Swan’s view is painted with crisp, cool colours. Tamara Kwapich, by comparison, embraces brilliant yellows, oranges, reds and greens in Autumn Bliss.

A bent tree frames the view like an arch. Beyond it a boy is fishing while gazing toward distant woods softened by an autumnal haze.

Ruo Chen (Sonia) Huang opts for a close-up of urban architecture. In Queen Street, she focuses on the top floor of an old building. Stair balusters and chimneys contribute strong verticals directing us upward to an almost clear blue sky.

And she’s included an obviously urban detail: graffiti on the brick wall on the right.

These are just a few of the great offerings. The exhibition is open to all artists. To apply for the next one, go and click on What’s Happening.

Regina Haggo, art historian, public speaker, curator and former professor at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, teaches at the Dundas Valley School of Art.

See the full article at the Hamilton Spectator

High-impact research, innovative pedagogy emphasized in McMaster SMA

The strategic mandate agreement (SMA) between Ontario and McMaster University highlights the university’s unique pedagogical approach, research-intensive setting, and its diverse program strengths. The SMA notes McMaster’s implementation of problem-based learning and inquiry and its distinctively collaborative and interdisciplinary culture, as well as the high impact of its research projects like the McMaster Automotive Resource Centre, the on-campus nuclear reactor, and the Biomedical Discovery and Commercialization Program. McMaster’s Innovation Park and its partnership with Mohawk College are also cited as being beneficial to economic development. The agreement highlights several areas of institutional strength in the areas of teaching and learning, including McMaster’s Institute for Innovation and Excellence in Teaching and Learning and its redesign of high-enrolment courses into blended formats. McMaster also receives recognition for its support of Indigenous students, Crown Wards, and other underrepresented groups. The SMA identifies 5 areas of growth: health sciences and the broad determinants of health, fostering robust societies, business and economics, science and engineering, and communications and culture.

Check out the full report at McMaster SMA

Dundas company investing $11.5m in 3D printing

A newly arrived Dundas company is gearing up to become the first in Canada to print metal and plastic parts for use in everything from jet and car engines to satellites to medical devices.

Burloak Technologies has just moved from the eastern edge of Burlington to its new home in the industrial section of Dundas. There, it is in the process of assembling $2.5 million worth of additive manufacturing machines, commonly known as 3D printers.

When the five-year investment is complete, Burloak expects to have spent about $11.5 million on equipment.

There has been plenty of hype around 3D printing, especially on the vision of every home of the future equipped with a 3D printer spitting out new vacuum parts, jewellery, toys and clothes. Some say it will herald a new Industrial Revolution and disrupt entire industries.

Burloak co-founder and chief operating officer Peter Adams says much of the ballyhoo is overblown. He believes 3D printing will fundamentally change manufacturing, but it can never replace traditional techniques such as machining and casting.

“There are many parts that will be better produced without 3D technology. The relative speed of 3D printing is slow. But for intricate, complicated parts, printing takes a fraction of the time.”

He expects manufacturing at Burloak will start as soon as next week and that the operation will be fully operational by the end of October. He anticipates the payroll will grow from its current nine to about 50 within a couple of years.

The company will own the first direct metal laser system for manufacturing in Canada, says Adams. There are only a few owned by colleges and universities or producing prototypes, he says.

“Canada seems to be way behind the curve on this.”

That translates into what he sees as a big opportunity. Adams, who is a majority shareholder in the nine-year-old company, brought in CEO Jim Glover a couple of years ago to develop a strategic plan for what Adams sees as rapid growth.

The metal printers haven’t arrived yet from Germany. But a machine that uses powdered plastic to print parts is on the floor. It’s about the size of a commercial refrigerator and costs $500,000.

Within an oxygen-free chamber, a computer guided laser reading design drawings deposits hair-thin layers of powdered plastic the way a paint brush layers paint.

The plastic is heated to just below its melting point so that the newly deposited powder fuses a strong bond with the existing layers. The process is quite similar with a metal printer.

It can take several hours to print parts and the machine can print hundreds of the same part or dozens of different ones at a time.

Adams says one of the great benefits of 3D printing is that very little of the raw material is wasted compared to machining or casting. The new technology is also highly accurate and produces components as a unit that once had to be welded together from dozens of parts. That cuts down on time and labour and makes the parts lighter and more durable.

Most importantly, the process can produce parts not possible through traditional machining or casting.

“Basically, anything that can be designed can now be made,” said Adams.

For example, curved holes can’t be drilled but they can easily be printed, he said.

General Electric has invested hundreds of millions in the technology. Its LEAP jet engine now in production will include 3D-printed parts; and Airbus in Europe has set a goal to print a complete aircraft by 2030. Adams doubts that’s doable, but says the pursuit will stretch the technology as far as it can go.

“I could definitely see something like a wing being 3D printed.”

There is already a concept car entirely printed, and ongoing research into printing human tissue from cells.

Burloak was founded in 2005 as Burloak Engineered Solution, and had been focused on design and engineering services for large manufacturers. But the company was “pressured” by clients to explore producing parts directly.

Burloak rebranded as Burloak Technologies and created operating divisions called Burloak Advanced Manufacturing Inc. and Burloak Engineered Solutions Inc.

Burloak chose to relocate to Dundas to be close to Mohawk College and McMaster Innovation Park.

Mohawk’s new Additive Manufacturing Resource Centre (AMRC) uses previous versions of the same printers being installed at Burloak.

“We will need highly skilled labour with experience with these machines. It’s hard to draw on a ready pool of talent because this is so new,” said Adams.

Robert Gerritsen, a mechanical engineering professor at Mohawk and co-ordinator of AMRC, says the college is just the second post-secondary institution in Canada to own a metal 3D printer. He says demand is huge for the technology among industry.

“I could spend 100 hours a week keeping ahead of all the inquiries and interest.”

He said having Burloak in Mohawk’s back yard is a great fit for both sides.

“We hope the centre is a magnet that grows and attracts more companies to our community because they will look for talent here. We have the best-equipped lab in the country.”

See the full article at the Hamilton Spectator