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MIT Technology Review

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Composer Christine Southworth ‘02 (center) stands between two singers who performed her “Zap!” at the Museum of Science as part of the Cambridge Science Festival held in April. “Zap!” is a musical composition for flutes, guitar, cello, bass, piano, robots, human voices, and the museum’s 40-foot-tall Van de Graaff generator, which provides static and flashing lights. The generator, the largest of its kind, is capable of producing up to 1.5 million volts of electricity. Designed and built at MIT in the 1930s, it was originally used in early atom-smashing and high-energy-x-ray experiments; in 1956, MIT gave the generator to the museum, where it is now used in daily demonstrations of lightning and electricity. “Zap!” is an offshoot of a project started by Southworth and Leila Hasan ‘01, MEng ‘01, called Ensemble Robot, a small collection of robotic musicians that produce both simple and complex patterns of sound from acoustic sources including strings, pipes, drums, and wooden keys. “Zap!” employs several of these robots as well as human musicians.

Image Credit: Paul Weiner