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UConn makes 3-D copies of antique instrument parts

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 27, 2014 at 8:34 am •  Published: July 27, 2014
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STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Researchers at the University of Connecticut are using medical technology to breathe new life into some antique musical instruments.

Dr. Robert Howe, a reproductive endocrinologist in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, says his medical practice showed him how computerized tomography could make precise 3-D images of body parts. As a student of music history, he realized the same CT scanning technology could help him study delicate musical instruments from the past.

Howe, who is also a doctoral student in music theory and history at UConn, last year brought his idea to music theory professor Richard Bass, who contacted Sina Shahbazmohamadi, an engineer and the school's director for advanced 3-D imaging.

Together, they have developed a process for using CT scanning technology not only to make images of those instruments but also to print 3-D copies of parts that will allow more of them to be played.

This week, they began seeking a patent for that process.

The CT scanning alone has yielded exciting results, including images that show the construction of an 18th-century English horn was much more complicated than experts originally thought. Because nobody would allow one of the rare and delicate instruments to be cut open, experts couldn't see the intricate set of bores and wooden pins used to hold it together, Howe said. The construction also didn't show up on a traditional X-ray because the pins are made of the same material as the horn.

A breakthrough by Shahbazmohamadi allowed the team to scan metal and wood at the same time. That allowed them to get exact 3-D images of items such as a mouthpiece from one of the first saxophones made by Adolphe Sax in the 19th century.

"Only three original mouthpieces are known to exist in the entire world," Howe said.

Before this technology, an attempt to copy the handmade part would have required measuring it with metal calipers and other instruments, which would have left marks. An artisan would then have to translate those measurements into tooling for a duplicate, a time-consuming and costly process.

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