This summer, researchers from the east and west sides of the UIC campus began collaborating on a solution to a classic conundrum — making something difficult into something doable — using the arts as a catalyst.
“We’re trying to find a way to use music to promote exercise,” said Eileen Collins, Professor of Biobehavioral Health Science in the College of Nursing. Collins has joined forces with Ulf Bronas, Associate Professor of Biobehavioral Health Science, and Steve Everett, Dean of the College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts and a noted composer. The idea is for Everett to manipulate music so it encourages therapeutic exercise.
“He’s able to take the artistic part of music, play with it a little, and turn it into science to make the brain and the muscles work together in ways that we don’t ordinarily think about.”
Participants in the group’s summer 2016 pilot study were patients from the University of Illinois Hospital and the Edward Hines, Jr. Veterans Administration Hospital who suffer from peripheral artery disease. The disease causes intense pain in the legs, made worse when patients walk. Walking, however, is precisely the thing they most need to do to treat the disease and feel better over time.
“These patients are limited to walking half a block to a block before they experience significant leg pain,” Bronas said. Collins explained that supervised exercises help relieve pain, but those programs often are not reimbursed by insurance. “Patients essentially are told to go home and walk, and they don’t do it because it’s painful,” she added. Everett thus created playlists based on musical genres that the participants enjoy, and he manipulated songs to encourage them to walk.
Music also has medical applications beyond peripheral artery disease, Everett said, such as helping patients with Alzheimer’s disease recall songs they enjoyed in their childhood: “There are so many examples of people trying to understand music's unique ability to affect certain medical conditions. . . . There’s an underlying understanding that music may not only create pleasure, but is something that may be much more critical for our own psychological health.”
Opportunities for students to study music and sound design are expanding, Everett explained. His students find jobs using their musical skills in fields such as computational informatics and signification, which involve using audio to express data. “Students are finding work in industries now that weren’t there 20 years ago,” he said. “Ideas are no longer formed in silos. Great universities develop ways to build conversations across silos.”
Another cross-campus collaboration at UIC brings together science and design students at the UIC Innovation Center, through a popular course called Interdisciplinary Product Development. Students in the class collaborate to develop an idea for a product, create and test it, and formulate a marketing plan.
During the two-semester course, which has been offered since 2002, students typically develop products to suit the needs of a corporate partner. In the spring of 2016, however, the course partnered with Mark Rosenblatt, professor and head of ophthalmology, to address health care problems identified by faculty members.
“We want to create a culture of innovation within our department, to think differently, and to take risks in order to accomplish important things,” Rosenblatt said. “I’ve been tremendously impressed with the Innovation Center and what’s happening there.”
The course perennially draws students from a range of disciplines to solve problems. Just weeks before his graduation from the School of Design, for instance, Daniel Helm (BDES ’16), a senior in industrial design, was collaborating with students in bioengineering, business, and design. They gathered in the Innovation Center to tackle their product development projects under the direction of three professors: Stephen Melamed (BFA ’80, MFA ’82), industrial design; Miiri Kotche, bioengineering; and Jelena Spanjol, business.
“It’s really great to get that team-based type of environment right before going into the workforce because that’s what you’re going to be dealing with your entire life,” said Helm.
The College’s collaborations across campus are aligned with the broader efforts of the University Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Susan Poser, and the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs, Robert Barish, to forge ongoing, dynamic connections between the east and west sides of the UIC campus.
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