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phonographuse These 19th century phonographs in the Collection Charles Cros, at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, were photographed by Sarah Fuchs Sampson, a PhD student in musicology.

The intersection of technology and opera in late 1800s Paris

Beginning in 1891, anyone with a private telephone line in France could subscribe to the Théâtrophone -- and listen to live performances of opera in the comfort of their home, Sarah Fuchs Sampson noted in a recent lecture at the Eastman School's Sibley Library.

Fuchs Sampson, a PhD student in musicology and recipient of the Presser Music Award, spent three months last summer searching through 14 different archival collections and libraries in Paris to research how such emerging technologies as the gramophone, phonograph, and silent film "radically reshaped the practice, performance and consumption of opera" in fin-de-siècle France. "One of the most exciting finds I made over the course of the summer was an entire run of programs from the first thirteen years of the Théâtrophone subscription service," she said.

If it seems remarkable today that we can livestream the Met on our smartphones and tablets, imagine how exciting it must have been to do much the same with Parisian opera performances more than a century ago -- before radio and television were invented and when phonograph recordings were still in their early days. The Théâtrophone must have seemed a marvelous invention indeed.

By making the opera accessible to a wider audience, Fuchs Sampson notes, the Théâtrophone, along with phonographs and gramophones, contributed to the emergence of a new kind of audience. These were true connoisseurs "who would listen with ears attuned to opera's historical significance" -- in contrast to the traditional elite audience that, as one French observer noted, seemed "more interested in itself than in the performance."

Among Fuchs Sampson's other findings:

1. Technologies of the voice ranging from the laryngoscope to the phonograph contributed to French pedagogues' and singers' understandings of the operatic voice and vocal training.

2. Despite the demonization of the "mechanical woman-singer" in French fiction of the time -- in which authors portrayed mechanical women in a negative light in order to delineate boundaries for modern science -- several female singers embraced such new technologies as sound recording and cinema.

3. By the first decade of the 20th century, those new technologies included the first efforts to "synchronize operatic voices with on-screen bodies" -- a process that required singers "after recording the sounds of their voices on phonograph discs" to then rehearse their silent film roles "until they had obtained a perfect synchronization with the phonographic recording." Voice and image were then synchronized electronically to produce "phonoscènes" featuring many of the top singers of the day.

"By exploring the relationship between the history of technology and that of French opera, my dissertation seeks to unite two fields of study that all too infrequently overlap," Fuchs Sampson noted. "But navigating between these realms offers a richly contextualized understanding of the technological possibilities and problems facing listeners, spectators, pedagogues, and singers in Third-Republic France."

(Next: Some advice on conducting archival research overseas.)

Do you have an interesting photo or other image that helps illustrate your research? We would like to showcase it. Send a high resolution jpg or other version, along with a description of what it shows, to

Designing a research poster

"Sometimes less is more," advises Youssef Farhat, a PhD student in Biomedical Engineering. "Less content on the poster can often result in more information reaching the audience."

Farhat was one of three poster contest winners at the 3rd annual Center for Musculoskeletal Research Symposium last September, for his poster on developing therapies to reduce scar tissue in tendon injuries.

"Oftentimes, we have the urge to cram in as much information as possible into our posters, but the end result is that they look too confusing or overwhelming to our audience, especially if they are not already familiar with our work. The end result is that the poster contains a lot of information, but very little of it actually ends up being conveyed to anyone."

Instead, he suggests, "the author's goal should be to simplify the poster as much as possible. This typically means limiting the poster to a few key figures accompanied by a minimal amount of text. I have found that simpler posters make it easier for the audience to absorb the information that's on the poster and engage the author with meaningful discussion. So next time you're making a poster, remember that sometimes less is more."

That dovetails nicely with this advice offered at the Washington NASA Space Grant Consortium website:

Clear design starts with clear thinking. Most viewers will spend five minutes (or less) looking at your poster. Before you begin sorting through your charts, graphs and photos, you need ask yourself this question: If a person is going to remember only one idea about my work, what do I want that idea to be? Now write down your answer. This is the theme of your poster, its focal point. Everything you choose to include on your poster needs to support this theme.

For more tips, go to

Study: Assessing a child's injury at the scene

A Rochester research team is studying thousands of scenarios of childhood injury -- from snowboarding accidents to falling down stairs -- to learn the best emergency medical practices at the scene, and what circumstances predict the need to take a child to a trauma center, reports Research@URMC.

One goal of the study is to provide criteria to guide decisions in communities across the country, said Jeremy T. Cushman, Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine. The results might show paramedics and physicians how to improve survival rates, and also how to save costs, since not all such patients can or should be transported to a Level 1 trauma center.

"We want to know how EMS providers are making their decisions," Cushman said, "and without formal research it's hard to gain anything more than anecdotal evidence." Cushman is the Rochester principal investigator for the collaborative project, which also involves researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin and Texas Children's Hospital. They expect to enroll more than 20,000 children younger than age 15 in the study, which was funded with a $1.5 million grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development.

CEIS event an opportunity to showcase research, connect with industry

The Center for Emerging and Innovative Sciences (CEIS) is holding its 14th annual University Technology Showcase from 1 to 5:30 p.m. April 10 at the Eastman Business Park's Theater on the Ridge. The showcase, which is free and open to the public, is an opportunity for researchers from the University to present their work to industry, to other researchers, and organizations. The objective is to stimulate industry-university collaboration. This year will feature a panel of speakers focused on discussions regarding Industry-University collaboration and economic development. A poster session follows. Register here by March 21.

Congratulations to . . .

Robert Waag, the Arthur Gould Yates Professor of Engineering and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who is being honored with a festschrift -- honorary issue -- of the journal Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology to acknowledge his seminal contributions in medical imaging, biomedical ultrasound, and acoustics.

Vera Gorbunova, Professor of Biology, and Andrei Seluanov, Assistant Professor of Biology, who were awarded the 2014 Prince Hitachi Prize in Comparative Oncology for their work and research clarifying the molecular mechanisms of cancer resistance of the naked mole rat.

Researchers in the news

For more than half a century, the American Bar Association has vetted the nation's judicial nominees, certifying candidates as "well qualified," "qualified," or "not qualified." A new study authored by Maya Sen, Assistant Professor of Political Science, suggests that the sometimes-controversial ratings could be tilted against minorities and women. "It is important to have the voices of women and minorities in the federal courts," Sen writes. "We know that women and minority judges vote differently once they are on the bench. Women judges tend to be a little more liberal when it comes to sex discrimination cases and African American judges tend to vote a little bit differently when it comes to issues involving civil rights or affirmative action. The record numbers of minority and women nominees currently having judicial candidacies derailed by this vetting process makes this a particularly pressing issue." The paper was published February 27 in the Journal of Law and Courts.

A new study led by UR researchers suggests that male hormones, also called androgens, help drive the development of follicles -- structures that contain and ultimately release an egg that can be fertilized by a man's sperm. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the research also details how male hormones boost the production of follicles in mice. The authors believe the study provides potential biological targets to enhance fertility in women with diminished ovarian reserve, who produce few or no follicles in response to IVF drugs designed to boost follicle development. "There is a raging debate in the reproductive endocrinology field about what male hormones are doing in female fertility," said Stephen R. Hammes, senior study author and Louis S. Wolk Distinguished Professor of Medicine. "Our study doesn't solve the controversy, but, along with some earlier seminal studies from other groups, it does tell us that we can't dismiss male hormones. They might actually be doing something useful."

Mark your calendar

Today and tomorrow: "Neurobiology and Neurology of Highly Skilled Motor Performance in Musicians," the Schmitt Program on Integrative Brain Research Symposium. Memorial Art Gallery and Eastman School of Music. Click here for the event program and registration information.

March 11: Crossing Elmwood seminar: Using MRI to predict visual recovery after tumor resection, presented by G. Edward Vates, Associate Professor of Neurosurgery and of Medicine (Endocrine/Metabolism), and Brad Mahon, Assistant Professor of Brain & Cognitive Sciences, of Neurosurgery and the Center for Visual Science. 12:15-1:15 p.m., Helen Wood Hall Auditorium (1w-304).

March 13: "Ethics in Research: Consent Quandaries," 2014 CTSI Symposium, 8 a.m., Helen Wood Hall Auditorium. This one-day symposium will address quandaries in research consent where there are likely to be gaps in knowledge or controversies about the best approach. The topics that will address these gaps include new tools for research consent; methods to address consent comprehension; the unique aspects of consent in settings like special populations, high-risk settings, community participatory research and comparative effectiveness research; and the special challenges of training community partners to obtain consent and conduct research. Register here.

March 15: Deadline to apply for Bioinformatics Pilot Awards. Click here to find the RFA.

March 21-22: The 59th annual Rochester Ophthalmology Conference aims to help ophthalmologists, optometrists, and allied health care professionals update their practices by incorporating evidence-based therapies, surgical techniques, and scientific insights. Flaum Atrium at the School of Medicine and Dentistry. Registration and more information is available online.

Please send suggestions and comments to Bob Marcotte.. To see back issues, click here.

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Rochester Connections is a weekly e-newsletter for all faculty, scientists, post docs and graduate students engaged in research at the University of Rochester. You are receiving this e-newsletter because you are a member of the Rochester community with an interest in research topics.