Daniel Shanahan, associate professor of music theory and cognition in the Bienen School of Music, is part of a new project funded by the National Science Foundation to explore the role of auditory experiences in spaces such as parks, museums, and zoos.

Researchers aim to understand how soundscapes may facilitate, spark, distract from, or even overwhelm thinking and conversation in spaces where conversation advances learning and is a vital part of the experience.

Funded by the National Science Foundation’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning Program, the project will foster collaboration between Informal STEM Learning (ISL) researchers, designers, and educators with sound researchers and acoustic ecologists.

Shanahan, who joined the Bienen School faculty in fall 2022, is co-principal investigator on the project with Justin Meyer (Center for Research and Evaluation, COSI, Columbus, Ohio). Martha Merson of TERC (Cambridge, Massachusetts) serves as the principal investigator.

Researchers and practitioners will describe soundscapes throughout different outdoor and indoor exhibit/learning spaces in select sites across the U.S. They will observe the attention and shared learning of visitors at museums, zoos, aquariums, parks, and nature centers. Researchers will also engage visitors in think-aloud interviews. Shanahan will be working on computational methods to identify patterns across different sounds and soundscapes, and looking at the relationship between these sounds and the responses and reflections of research participants. In particular, the analyses will identify characteristics of sounds that correlate with increased attention and shared learning.

“It’s very exciting to be able to explore the effects of our sonic environment on learning, and I’m thrilled to be a part of this wonderful team,” said Shanahan.

This is the first NSF grant awarded to a member of the Bienen School of Music faculty.

  • music theory and cognition
  • Daniel Shanahan