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Walter Panas Student Wins Scientific Excellence Award

Alan Cha recently received the Acorda Scientific Excellence Award
Alan Cha recently received the Acorda Scientific Excellence Award Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jennifer Ringler

CORTLANDT MANOR, N.Y. -- Alan Cha, a student at Walter Panas High School in Cortlandt, wanted to study the science behind the beautiful music he listens to and composes.

Cha, 17, recently received the Acorda Scientific Excellence Award for his research paper and a computer program he developed called Music Manipulation with Structured Light (MMSL). Cha worked on the project for two years.

MMSL is a computer program that allows users to expressively manipulate or dynamically experiment with an audio stream in real-time. The system allows users to “conduct” pre-recorded pieces to make them more musical. Using the Kinect, MMSL can track human body gestures, which are used to control audio filters. In this way, by moving one’s body, MMSL allows the user to change the sound of the pre-recorded music.

Cha was interested in the project since he has a passion for music and robotics, taking piano classes at the Manhattan School of Music and participating in the annual RoboCup.

"I always look for ways to bridge these two passions," Cha said. "Music has evaded the grasp of science. Why is music so powerful? This is the question I want to answer."

Cha, who developed the MMSL by himself, said he would like to become a visionary robotics engineer.

"Ever since I joined RoboCup, I saw the potential of building autonomous soccer robots," Cha said. "I saw the potential of robotics engineering. I enjoy imagining the future."

Cha said the project was "extremely rewarding" to work on.

"This was a completely different experience," Cha said. "It was literally the best of both worlds, combining artistic expression with hardcore programming. It's a combination that you don't see a lot and that's what makes it so much fun."

Cha said he thinks more scientific research will be done on music.

"It is literally everywhere," Cha said. "You just can't escape it. And though we surround ourselves in it, we don't know anything about music. Why is it so powerful? How dies it make us happy or sad? Why is music a part of the human experience at all? Imagine if we could answer these questions."

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