How I Spent My COVID Quarantine: 3D Printing a Laser Harp – USC Viterbi

In a room filled with guitars and bookshelves, Reuben Levine plays a few notes on a strange device. Clones of him appear on the side of the screen, playing more familiar instruments: a guitar and drums. Together they create a classic melody, instantly recognizable as “I’m a Believer” by monkeys.

At the center of this eclectic performance, seen in the video below, is an instrument that Levine himself designed and built: a harp made of lasers.

Levine’s Laser Harp, a product of three years of iteration, is a function of his combined knowledge of music, 3D printing, and engineering. Levine, a senior mechanical engineering student at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, has long had a passion for music and craftsmanship, and this project was the perfect situation for him to explore both interests.

“I actually did three iterations of the laser harp, over a three-year period,” Levine explains. “That means I built it three times to get it working, and between each design I started completely from scratch.”

The first iteration, made from the remains of a globe, had the basic functionality of a harp, including five “strings”. But Levine was not happy with this version, because it was ultimately only a proof of concept. He knew he could do better.

The first iteration of Levine’s Laser Harp, constructed from an old globe. Photo credit: Ruben Levine.

For the second iteration, Levine enlisted his friend, Luke Kratsios, an architecture student at Cornell University. Kratsios’ understanding of physical design helped Levine unlock possibilities for new functions. This version allowed the user to access a wider range of notes, as one could with a traditional harp, through methods such as changing octaves or pitch. He also increased the number of strings from five to eight.

Rueben Levine Harp 2

The second iteration of Levine’s Laser Harp, with help from Luke Kratsios. Photo credit: Ruben Levine.

Despite the advances he had made, Levine was still not satisfied. At USC, he is involved in 3D4E, a student organization focused on 3D printing that allows its members unlimited use of printing materials for their personal projects. 3D4E ​​is one of many student-led design teams at Viterbi, currently operating from the new Baum family creative space. As head of the club’s lab, Levine had accumulated good expertise with equipment and put it to use, designing and printing the harp over and over until it was perfect.

“I had unlimited access to virtually endless 3D printing resources,” says Levine. “With 3D printing, you can have a design made in hours, instead of days. I had to print 30-40 cases – I could take design risks because I knew very quickly how they would turn out.

Reuben Levine Harp Base

Some of the many rejected designs for Levine’s Third Laser Harp. Photo credit: Ruben Levine.

However, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, Levine returned to his New York home. He was faced with a dilemma: while he had plenty of free time to work on this project, he lacked many resources from 3D4E and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

“By then I had reached a 90% satisfaction level with the design of the laser harp, but being home was a lot of hassle,” he says. “I had to do all the welding in my bedroom, for example.”

“If I could have quarantined myself in the 3D printing lab, I would have,” he jokes.

Despite the challenges, he set a goal to complete the project before the end of the calendar year. “I had already started working on the demo video,” Levine admits, “and titled it ‘Reuben Levine’s Laser Harp 2020.’ And I didn’t want to go back and change that 0-to-1.”

He barely met the deadline, releasing his demo video in December 2020. It was filmed in his father’s music studio in their Manhattan home.

Levine first became interested in engineering out of a love for airplanes and spaceflight. He eventually chose mechanical engineering because of its flexibility. The skills of a mechanical engineer can be applied to a wide variety of fields – from aerospace to music and beyond.

“Mechanical engineering gives me the freedom to choose where I want to work further down the line,” Levine said.

In the summer of 2021, Levine interned for the USC Center for Advanced Manufacturing, where he developed an artificial intelligence program to help detect defects in the production of helicopter blades. He used the knowledge of his 3D Animation in Cinematic Arts miner to generate thousands of images to properly train the AI.

What’s next for Levine? In the past, he developed his engineering skills by doing Arduino projects and a bubble blower robot. Now working on the laser harp has rekindled a passion for music, which he wants to focus on as he enters his senior year.

“Music is a family affair,” says Levine. “My dad’s guitars and gear have been lying around the house for as long as I can remember. It was only a matter of time before I accepted it. »

In 2020, he released an EP titled “Desire for novelties”, available on all major streaming platforms. He hopes to continue making music as he prepares to graduate from USC.

Posted on August 24, 2021

Last updated August 24, 2021

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