That was the thinking behind Spark Care+, a music therapy treatment that is designed to be personalized for each user. It is the invention of Sarah Park, a 14-year-old middle-schooler from Jacksonville, Florida. Last week it won her the title of America’s Top Young Scientist and $25,000 from the 2021 3M Young Scientist Challenge.
Samarth Mahapatra from Marietta, Georgia, took second place for a computer algorithm that helps visually impaired people cook. Snigtha Mohanraj from Ansonia, Connecticut, came in third for a device that removes microplastics and oil from contaminated water.
For Sarah’s invention to work, it asks users a lot of questions about how they’re feeling. It links the answers to what are called the Hamilton anxiety and depression rating scales. It also has a sensor that reads users’ heart rate and blood pressure. Then Spark Care+ picks music that it determines will make the user feel better. Sarah hopes to put her invention in a wristband that users can wear, and to find a music database to partner with, to provide the tunes.
“I want to have multicultural music, different sounds, different genres, different styles,” she says.
It’s not surprising that Sarah’s invention is related to music. She has been playing the violin since she was 4 years old. She is also a concertmaster for the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestras. A classical piece called “Carmen Fantasy” by Pablo de Sarasate is her favorite one to listen to.
“That piece makes me feel a lot of different emotions,” she says. “In the very beginning it’s excited and energetic. In the middle it’s more calm and happy. There are many emotions one piece of music can elicit out of you.”
But she was also inspired to create Spark Care+ by her grandmother, who lives in Korea and whom she calls Halmoni.
“She has mental illness problems, and when she listens to my violin music . . . it generates really positive emotions,” Sarah says. Her grandmother’s favorite songs are traditional Korean songs that “bring back happy memories,” Sarah says.
Sarah is working on refining her invention and coming up with an app version. She also wants to make sure her invention can be used by anyone, not just by people who are good with technology. Her plan for the final version is for it to be able to make music suggestions with or without people answering questions about their feelings first. “I hope to be able to distribute it around the world” to people of all ages, she says.