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The Sound of Industry, a trans-disciplinary research project at the University of Cincinnati

The Sound of Industry, a trans-disciplinary research project at the University of Cincinnati

Findings Staff Report | May 10, 2022

Something clicked when the researchers from various colleges across the University of Cincinnati heard the recording.

The group—the fourth cohort of the Office of Research’s Trans-disciplinary Research Leadership Program—had been working together for a few months brainstorming a research project to embark on. As an exercise to get their creative juices going, each had brought in an object related to sound and industry.

Some brought in sound devices or equipment. Others brought in photographs, like a worker in a factory in Youngstown, Ohio. But the “eureka moment” was the recording of postal workers in Ghana stamping mail in a syncopated rhythm and whistling a tune together, brought in by Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology Scott Linford, of the College Conservatory of Music.“It’s a work song, right,” says another cohort member Associate Professor Robert Gioielli, who has a Ph.D. in history and specializes in environmental and urban history at UC Blue Ash. The group began thinking not just about protecting workers from harsh sounds, he says, but also “providing a pleasant, maybe even enjoyable environment, for workers—sounds that provide a sociability and fellowship among coworkers.”

The team also includes Professor of Law Felix Chang, Assistant Professor of Psychology Tamara Lorenz and Associate Professor of Business Analytics Yichen Qin. The group is digging in on a research project they call the Sound of Industry. Together, they’ll study the past of Midwest manufacturing, related to sound, and what the future could hold.

The team is thinking about Sound in Industry in terms of Industry 5.0—the next industrial revolution, says Lorenz, who is jointly affiliated with the Department of Psychology, the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computation Science and the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering.

First, she explains, came the classic Industrial Revolution beginning around 1760, when economies were transformed from agriculture- and handicraft-based economies to large-scale industry with mechanized manufacturing. Industry 2.0 was punctuated by a phase of rapid scientific discoveries, standardization, mass production and industrialization—with developments like the telegraph, railroad networks and sewage systems.

Industry 3.0 introduced more automated systems onto the assembly line to perform human tasks and Industry 4.0 focuses heavily on interconnectivity, automation, machine learning and real-time data. 

“Industry 5.0 is the acknowledgement that the previous four industrial revolutions have disrupted society in ways that have had social and environmental consequences,” says Lorenz, who has a Ph.D. in Systemic Neurosciences from Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Germany. “There are three main pillars to Industry 5.0; the wellbeing of the worker and workforce retention, responsibility towards the environment and sustainability and adaptivity, flexibility and resilience for things like the supply chain and the global market economy.”

For this group of TDRL faculty, the freedom to create their own process was a little scary at the onset, Lorenz says, but truly rewarding when their ideas began to converge. Settling on their direction depended on getting to know one another and learning each other’s languages.

“You need to build at least a rudimentary understanding of where people are coming from, what their background is, what their research is and how their discipline works,” Lorenz says. A cornerstone of the TDRL program has been its esteemed mentors. This group was led by Professor Suzanne Boyce, from the College of Allied Health Sciences and Associate Professor Ann Black, who is also associate dean for Academic and Faculty Affairs and teaches in the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning.

Both Boyce and Black are established trans-discplinary researchers. Boyce has a Ph.D. in linguistics from Yale University and has been part of a strategic trans-disciplinary research group at UC that is using ultrasounds to study tongue movements. The group is currently working on a game that can be used in speech therapy. Black’s current research focuses on improving the experience and well-being of patients, caregivers and medical staff by studying and improving upon physical healthcare spaces and products.

“We are here to encourage the researchers and make suggestions when they seem to be veering off path,” Boyce says. “This particular group didn’t need a whole lot of guidance.”

Next, the five TDRL researchers will take on individual research topics related to the Sound of Industry, and work toward publishing papers that build insight and expertise. For example: How can the law move from a conceptualization of sound as hazard and pollutant to sound as builder of community? And how is sound affecting the well-being of workers?

Then, the group will come together to work on a bigger project considering sound as a regulated environmental pollutant. They are working on finding an industrial partner, where they can consider place, governance, and equality. The team is currently prepping for the project and considering funding opportunities.

Gioielli says the experience so far has been fun and, as an urbanist, inspiring.

“Thinking about the past 100 years, especially in manual labor jobs, safety has meant reducing harm—limiting the incidences of both repetitive injury and catastrophic injury,” Gioielli says. “This is our entry point to thinking about what the future of work looks like. When you walk onto that shop floor on a daily basis, that you’re in a place that you feel safe, you feel comfortable, and you're connected to your colleagues and workmates.”

A quick update on Cohort 2

Over the past two years, the TDRLP Cohort 2 has continued its project focused on mitigating the negative impacts of loneliness in the older adult community, integrating psychosocial, environmental, and biological approaches to intervention.

The objective of this project is to develop a holistic set of measures to identify the complex factors influencing loneliness as individuals age.

Work at the Maple Knoll Retirement Community was set to begin in March of 2020 but was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The team adapted to the new work conditions and conducted a series of phone interviews during the summer of 2020 examining older adults’ experience with loneliness, both before and during COVID lockdowns. 

This pilot analysis was completed and a manuscript on the subject is now in progress as the team continues to apply for research funding from a variety of sources. Cohort 2 members are: Associate Professor of Philosophy Zvi Biener, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Josh Gross, Associate Professor of Nursing Rebecca (Becky) Lee and Professor of Bioprocess Engineering and Bioenergy Maobing Tu.

The Office of Research sponsored Trans-disciplinary Research Leadership program has run its course but many other team-based research opportunities continue to be supported. For more information visit our website, research.uc.edu.