Projects on the neuroscience of music and environmental storytelling awarded funds for artist-scientist-engineer collaborations

April 28, 2023

Two projects that interweave the artistic expression with investigations into the natural world have been selected to receive funding from the Dean for Research Innovation Fund for Collaborations Between Artists and Scientists or Engineers.

The fund brings together faculty in seemingly unrelated fields in ways that expand their respective domains and benefit both disciplines. Projects must be led by at least one faculty member from the humanities and one faculty member in the natural sciences or engineering. The fund is one of a collection of funding avenues administered by the Office of the Dean for Research as part of the University’s commitment to support new directions in research and scholarship.

Projects are selected following a competitive application process. Winning proposals were ones that made an intellectually compelling case for the close collaboration between artists and scientists or engineers, and included plans for making the activity self-sustaining through applications for future funding.

Music and the narrative imagination

Margulis (left) and Hasson (right)

Elizabeth Margulis, Professor of Music (left), and Uri Hasson, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience. Photos courtesy of the departments of Music and Neuroscience.

Combining lines of research from the humanities and the sciences, a new collaboration will explore the neural mechanisms behind how we imagine stories as we listen to music. The project, led by Elizabeth Margulis, professor of music, and Uri Hasson, professor of psychology and neuroscience, will combine cognitive neuroscience and music to explore the hidden connections between abstract thinking, imagination and instrumental music.

Previous work by Margulis showed that people of similar cultures create narratives that are surprisingly consistent when listening to a piece of instrumental music. Hasson has shown a similar finding when people watch an abstract animation. The team will lead the collection of fMRI data and analysis of how cultural experiences shape the ways people use music and storytelling to communicate and connect with other people.

Climate Stories Incubator

Allison Carruth

Allison Carruth, Professor of American Studies and the High Meadows Environmental Institute. Image courtesy of Allison Carruth

A collaboration of environmental scholars, scientists and artists will employ multidisciplinary research and multimedia storytelling to document diverse experiences of climate change. The project will be housed in Princeton’s Blue Lab, an environmental research, storytelling and art group led by Allison Carruth, professor of American studies and the High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI). Carruth will team with John Higgins, associate professor of geosciences, Barron Bixler, a social-environmental photographer and art and media specialist in HMEI, and Tim Szetela, lecturer in visual arts in the Lewis Center for the Arts.

The team brings respective expertise in environmental narrative, science communication, documentary, design, animation, geochemical analysis, and paleoclimatology to the Climate Stories Incubator (CSI), a research-driven creative experiment to imagine lived experiences of climate change and support community-led climate action. The project, which is also supported by a Humanities Council Exploratory Grant in Collaborative Humanities, will include the work of postdoctoral scholars, students and external collaborators and will develop several storytelling experiments on themes such as climate change in coastal regions in the Americas, interfaces where land and water meet in New Jersey, and the environmental and social impacts of lithium mining for green energy. The final outcomes will include the creation and release of original story series and interactive media along with large-scale studies that will contribute new models of inclusive, justice-centered climate communication.