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Fit Fiddle

Viterbi Undergrads' Carbon Composite Violin Wins USC Research Prize

April 15, 2005 — Viterbi School seniors Jennifer Tsakoumakis and Billy Kaplan won first place in the physical sciences category at the USC

Tsakoumakis and Kaplan demonstrate the violin they built using carbon fiber composite material for Joseph Hellige, Vice Provost for Academic Programs and Professor of Biological Sciences. Such a violin could be faster, cheaper and more acoustically reproducible to manufacture than a traditional wooden violin.
Click on image above to hear the fiber fiddle
Annual Undergraduate Symposium for Scholarly and Creative Work for their carbon composite fiber violin.

The pair will share the $500 prize.

Tsakoumakis (mechanical engineering) and Kaplan (aerospace engineering) built a playable instrument from the material, and rigorously tested it on a variety of criteria — timbre, rate of decay, tone quality — against conventional wooden instruments. 

"Jennifer and I have both been members of the USC aerodesign team for several years," said Kaplan. "This is a club that designs a radio controlled airplane for a contest every year and builds it from composite materials.

"For our senior design project, we wanted to take our knowledge of working with composite materials and apply it in a way that has never been done before. A violin seemed like a fun challenge. "

The hardest part? "Duplicating the exact shape of a violin. We wanted to make molds that had the exact same shape as an old Stradivarius violin. To do this, we found the published dimensions, then input all of the coordinates into a 3D modeling program on a computer. We sent these to a CNC milling machine, which cuts precise three-dimensional shapes out of blocks of material, shapes that were then used to make a mold."

Kaplan, who comes Omaha, NB, played violin when younger. Tsakoumakis is from Huntington Beach, CA, and is now taking lessons.

Both are headed directly for the aerospace industry. Kaplan will work for Boeing's cockpit design section in Seattle Washington, which Tsakoumakis is headed for Northrup Grumman's Joint Strike Fighter project in El Segundo.

Competition was stiff: some 154 students entered 97 individual and group awards in sx categorie: Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences, Physical Sciences, Mathematics and Engineering, Life Sciences, and Professional and Applied Disciplines. First and second prizes were awarded in each category by faculty judges.

The symposium , the seventh of its kind, was sponsored by Joseph Hellige, Vice Provost for Academic Programs, and Neal Sullivan, Vice Provost for Research.