Students combine music and virtual reality to relieve stress, win competition

Kent, OH — On Wed., Oct. 2, thirteen teams made up of students from across Kent State University presented interdisciplinary, collaborative projects at the 2019 edition of Mission:Life—a program hosted by Kent State’s Design Innovation initiative. The teams were competing for the opportunity to represent Kent State in international competition. This year’s theme was Mental Health in the 21st Century, and each team’s project addressed this issue. 

“Through the Design Innovation Initiative, we are incredibly pleased to be able to help facilitate the Mission:Life competition at Kent State with our partners in the College of Arts and Sciences and in LaunchNET,” said J.R. Campbell, Executive Director of Kent State’s Design Innovation Initiative. 

Alena Miskinis—a double major in music and English with a minor in psychology—was a member of the winning team alongside Ph.D. candidates Shadi Kanan (nursing) and Xiangxu “Shawn” Lin (computer science). They will travel to Curitiba, Brazil to compete at the Nov. 11 Mission:Life International Competition. J.R Campbell further elaborated on the trip saying, “While we are there, we will also be working with all of the other student teams to engage in a community service project that helps to build friendships and greater insight into the culture of Brazil.”

Their winning project addressed college student stress by incorporating both music therapy and virtual reality—two emerging medical treatments. They created a device called Virtual Harmony, which focused on the stimulation of the senses of vision, audition (hearing) and tactation. As a team, they created a new 360-degree, real-life environment along with a selection of music that the user would choose in response to their mood. The music included a Grieg nocturne recorded by Alena as the piano soloist and the second movement of Beethoven’s seventh symphony due to its strong rhythmic character. 

According to Alena, “Rhythm is an important part of music therapy because it can slow the heart rate and also recreate a sense of time in the present moment that will hopefully transfer to other moments outside of the therapeutic environment.”

Since listening to music and watching videos are typical activities, it was the inclusion of tactation, which made their project unique. To activate this sense, the team created virtual instruments, including a piano, a xylophone, and a drum set. Users of Virtual Harmony could use these instruments to play along with the background music. 

Alena sparked the idea of this project, and Design Innovation quickly stepped in to help her find partners Shawn and Shadi. It turned out to be a great match, and the trio agrees that the experience has proved to be invaluable. Shawn described it by saying, “The collaboration between different majors can give us a different point of view that makes sure we consider every possibility.”

After the Nov. 11 competition in Brazil, they hope to finalize their research and submit it for publication in academic journals. They also want to explore making the device commercially available to college students as a new way of coping with stress. 

Learn more about the 2019 Mission:Life competition

Written by: Andrew Paa, apaa@kent.edu

POSTED: Tuesday, October 22, 2019 - 1:52pm
UPDATED: Thursday, November 7, 2019 - 10:04am