In 2018, we launched a national STEM outreach programme aimed at inspiring 7-10 year olds to get involved in engineering. To mark 500 years since Leonardo da Vinci’s death, we’re asking: has the smartphone killed invention? To find out, we invited primary school children across the UK to invent their way to an unbreakable world record for the number of people playing the same piano. Da Vinci was a renowned inventor, engineer and artist. He even invented his own musical instrument, the Viola Organista.
In an ever-more digital world, can we still invent and make something physical and unexpected? Can we fuse engineering and art? The world-record currently stands at 19 people playing the same piano, but if we could invent mechanical finger-extenders, we could have one person on each note: 88 Pianists!
We invited Key Stage 2 children from across the whole of the UK to design these mechanical fingers. Hearing about about da Vinci and other inventors, and learning how a piano works, the children created 2300 designs. In January 2019, our engineering teams gathered in Cambridge to choose the 88 winning designs. The children are now working together with our Engineering Teams to build them into real life mechanical extendable fingers. In August, they will bring the fingers to Birmingham, teach young West Midlands piano students how to use them, and watch as Julian Lloyd Webber conducts a newly commissioned piece to break the world record on 19 August 2019.
88 Pianists was created by Professor Julian Allwood at the University of Cambridge Department of Engineering, in collaboration with engineering academics from universities across the UK.