The resulting shapes don’t always resemble their original design, though. For instance, after being manipulated to properly produce the ‘E’ note, the third bar in that animated GIF up top looks nothing like the cartoon elephant it started life as. Where as the fifth bar still resembles a lion. But the software strives to find a good balance between maintaining the bar’s original shape, and ensuring it produces the required tone.

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So what does this mean for anyone outside the research world, besides a xylophone toy made of various Star Wars shapes that’s probably already in production? The software developed here could also be used to fine tune the shapes of blades on a computer fan, making future laptops run even quieter. Or be used to refine the shapes of moving parts in a car, to help dampen resonant frequencies and sounds inside the cabin.

It could even be applied to architectural design, for designing bridges or other structures that don’t amplify vibrations and increase stresses like the infamous Tacoma Narrows Bridge over Puget Sound that eventually shook itself to pieces.

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[MIT CSAIL]