Media lab researcher delights and educates STEM students with creative apps

By Lena Bae

Eric Rosenbaum demonstrates his creative software MaKey MaKey to four STEM students.

On Friday, July 19, students of the MIT Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Summer Institute learned about entertaining applications of electrical engineering and computer science from Eric Rosenbaum, a researcher at the MIT Media Lab, as part of the program’s weekly speaker series. Rosenbaum demonstrated four interactive programs that mixed art, music, and technology.

Rosenbaum began the program by soliciting the audience for ideas of amusing sounds. He proceeded to recreate the suggestions with his mouth while demonstrating Singing Fingers, an application that translates nearby sounds into corresponding colors as fingers are dragged across the screen. The resulting drawing becomes a musical instrument when parts associated with specific sounds are touched again.

Melody Morph, the second app Rosenbaum demonstrated – which yet to be released – creates an improvised musical instrument on the screen. Among other features, keys can be placed in desired locations and assigned specific pitches. The app allows users to create improvised melodies or twists on familiar ones, as Rosenbaum showed with a rendition of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” to an enthusiastic audience.

For his third act, Rosenberg dimmed the lights and encouraged students to participate in Glow Doodle, a program that allows users to paint with light through a process similar to long-exposure photography. Students waved cell phones and swung Rosenbaum’s tactfully chosen prop, a glowing lightsaber, in front of a webcam. The movements were transformed into white and blue streaks on the screen.

Finally, students observed Rosenbaum demonstrate MaKey MaKey, a kit that transforms electricity-conducting materials into touchpads by connecting them to the computer. Rosenbaum chose four volunteers amid a roomful of eager hands to be connected to MaKey MaKey. The computer emitted a different sound when each student – now a touchpad component – was touched.

This was the second session of the Friday speaker series. STEM Program Coordinator Derek Ham encouraged students to take advantage of the series to “see STEM at work in areas you may never have thought could be applied.” The series’ first speaker was Rizal Muslimin, a Ph.D. student in MIT’s Architecture program.