Researcher works toward sustainable beats

Wednesday, August 1st, 2018

By Emily Marsh

Woman playing drums

Photo by Emily Marsh
Grace Gusler, a sophomore sustainable biomaterials: process and product design major from Corydon, Indiana, brings her musical passion and her major together by looking for ways to improve the design and materials used to construct drumsticks.

Grace Gusler wakes up every Saturday morning while it’s still dark out in order to play music with her closest friends. It’s a lot of work, but playing in front of tens of thousands of football fans gives the sophomore sustainable biomaterials: process and product design major from Corydon, Indiana, a rush like no other.

“Every time we perform, it feels like the first time,” Gusler said. “Although getting up early every Saturday can get old, it is always worth it once we get on the field to perform for the fans.”

But Gusler isn’t into music just for the crowds. She also works behind the scenes to combine her love of music with her research. Gusler took a closer look at drumsticks and looked for ways to improve their design and the materials used to make them.

Her goals are to design sticks that still sound great but use more sustainable materials and reduce the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome in drummers. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that causes numbness and pain in the hands from repeated stress.

And her research started with a very simple observation about traditional drumsticks.

“We noticed that a lot of these drumsticks keep breaking,” Gusler said. So, one of the first things she looked at was what the drumsticks were made of.

“Hickory is said to be the best wood for drumsticks, but there are better and more sustainable options we could utilize instead, such as synthetic sticks, which are more durable and environmentally friendly,” she said.

She then realized that if she could combine these new materials with a new design, she could create drumsticks that would also reduce carpal tunnel syndrome. So, she designed a set of drumsticks that are covered with several indentations and divots to alter the drummer’s grip.

To test the design, she measured the sticks so that they would match each drummer’s hands at her former high school, Corydon Central. She sent the sticks to the school, and the band director at the high school recorded musicians practicing with them.

Gusler used the recordings to check sound quality and find any differences between regular drumsticks and her prototype. Her next step is to analyze the information and decide whether her adjustments were successful. If so, Gusler has the potential to help many percussionists find a cure to a common issue.

Gusler’s research is more than just an interest. It has the potential to change the music industry by creating a product that is helpful and groundbreaking.

The thrill of finding a solution to common issues drummers face may not seem as exciting as being a part of the Purdue All-American Marching Band. But Gusler’s research allows her to pursue her love for music off the field.

“I hope to always be working on research,” said Gusler. “There is a lot of work that can be done in sustainability and I want to be a part of it.”

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