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Playing With the Heartstrings


In my quantitative physiology class, I learned about autonomic innervation of the heart. This refers to the network of sympathetic and parasympathetic nerve fibers from the autonomic branch of the peripheral nervous system that enables the heart to function.


I wanted to combine this concept with the saying “tug at the heartstrings”. Music tends to have that effect on people, and to utilize this I used capacitive touch sensing so each nerve played a note when touched. I utilized photogrammetric scanning of a plastic heart model to generate a 3D mesh, hollowed it out on Rhino, and SLA printed it with resin. I also modelled the poles on Rhino and 3D printed them. For the platform I used plywood: the round plates were cut using a CNC mill and the edge was laser cut into a kerf pattern to allow flexibility. As for the circuitry, I used a Makey Makey (a capacitive touch sensing circuit), plugged it into my computer, and attached each output to a wire. The nerves were represented with yellow wire, as depicted in typical medical illustrations. However, to allow the sensors to work effectively, the wires were stripped of their insulated cover in the middle.


Given the limitations of time and the Makey Makey's ability to play a maximum of five notes, I only used six wires, or nerve fibers. Two of the wires play C, which is meant to represent the sinoatrial and atrioventricular nodes in the vagus nerve. The other nerves represent sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves.

This piece was recognized by FormLabs, Makey Makey, and the University of Michigan College of Engineering + Stamps School of Art and Design. It can also be viewed on the University of Michigan Arts Engine Science as Art website.

Materials: resin, plywood, wire, hot glue, Makey Makey

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