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Senior Combines Love of Theatre, Physics for Research in Acoustical Engineering

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Senior Laura Brill combined her passion for physics and theatre into successful research in acoustical engineering.

What do you get when you combine E=MC2 with cue sheets and curtain calls?

You get Nebraska Wesleyan University senior Laura Brill.

Brill, a senior from Houston, Texas, began her college career four years ago intending to study theatre and then move to New York City. She dreamed of days on Broadway.

But success in her high school physics classes also led her to wonder if she should pursue that interest too.

Her academic advisor at NWU said, “absolutely.”

“I could approach an abstract field with a semi-structured science field,” said Brill.

Seeking to find a way to combine both academic interests, Brill discovered the field of vocal acoustics. That led to an independent research project where she studied the acoustic quality of Nebraska Wesleyan’s McDonald Theatre, home to 14 main-stage productions each year. She analyzed the theater’s acoustics using a computer-generate model and recommended potential changes that could enhance the sound that the audience hears.

Last summer, Brill pursued her interest even further through a research position at the Peter Kiewit Institute in Omaha.

Her research impressed more than just her professors and supervisors. Brill was accepted to present at the 168th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Indianapolis, Ind. While there she spent a week presenting her research and hearing from other scientists who have exceled in acoustical engineering.

Her plans for Broadway haven’t been completely dismissed, but now she’s applying to graduate schools with plans to work in theatre design and focusing her attention on optimized sound.

“If I can’t be on stage I want to be able to change somebody’s experience in the theatre,” she said. “If I can change how a five-year-old child sees their first Broadway show, that’s incredible.”

Both the theatre and physics departments have been supportive of her challenging and time-intensive majors, she said. Her theatre professors have been flexible with rehearsals when she is overwhelmed with physics homework, and her physics professors sit in the front row at her theatre productions.

Her advisor, Joan Korte, associate professor of theatre, has enjoyed watched Brill transform throughout her college career.

“She started out with a lot of questions, struggles and challenges,” said Korte.

“She would say, ‘This is what I want, but is this what I should be doing?’” Korte continued. “She took advantage of a lot of things that Nebraska Wesleyan has to offer like career counseling. She truly is a Wesleyan example – simply amazing.”