Careers & Student Outcomes

Student Q&A: Master’s Student Helps Rehabilitate Older Adults Through Musical Biofeedback

Advised by Assistant Professor Antonia Zaferiou, music-loving biomedical engineering student and Stevens DJ delivers personalized music in the lab to improve coordination among older adults

Zachary Marvin B.E. ’23 is a biomedical engineering master’s student working in Assistant Professor Antonia Zaferiou’s Musculoskeletal Control and Dynamics Lab. The lab focuses on analysis of biomechanics and the development of technologies such as sonification — a form of biofeedback in which participants create sound through their movements — to improve the quality of physical performance for people in rehabilitation, athletics and dance.

Marvin received his bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology before beginning his master’s education, where he focuses his research on correcting the balance and gait of older adults. 

In the lab, he creates personalized music as a biofeedback technique, while making use of artificial intelligence (AI), wearable motion sensors and other software to track the movement patterns, balance and progress of participants in real time. Marvin hopes to continue this research by broadening its scope in order to see how it could be implemented in rehabilitation for those suffering from neurodegenerative disorders. He joins Jeremiah Chinwendu ’25, a third-year undergraduate, to talk about his research and its scope.

Master's student Zachary Marvin, biomedical engineeringZachary Marvin B.E. '23 is currently pursuing his M.Eng. in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Q: What influences led you to choosing this subject for your master’s thesis?

A: From the time I was little, I had a passion for music, as it was something that kept me grounded in life and has always been something that I could rely on emotionally. I also attended a pre-med high school, which fed into my biomedical engineering undergraduate education. Lastly, I had experience with AI early on in undergrad. Those three things —- music, AI, and biomedical engineering -—  are what I hoped to combine in my research, as I thought a lot about ways to tailor music to an individual in order to help with their coordination. 

Q: What aspects of your background do you incorporate into your research?

A: Here at Stevens, I have done a lot of DJing and music production, so I am very familiar with sound design. Certain sounds resonate well with some people while the same sounds may not resonate with others. For this reason, a big part of my research focuses on tailoring the sound to individuals. I use a questionnaire to gather information from participants about what type of sounds they like to hear and I incorporate that into the biomedical engineering aspect of gait- training and sonified biofeedback.

Q: How did your Stevens undergraduate education help with your master’s pursuit?

A: My undergraduate education laid out the foundations of biomedical engineering that I would need to understand in order to conduct the research for my thesis. Understanding the gait cycle and other principles of biomechanics is important when monitoring the movement of participants and tracking their progress. Engineering principles helped me to better understand the motion- capture system. These principles included the xyz-coordinate system and the functions of accelerometers and gyroscopes. My Stevens undergraduate education gave me the foundation on which I built my thesis, allowing me to incorporate my musical background into my thesis to develop something unique.

Q: What does a typical day in the lab look like?

A: A day in the lab, typically in the morning, consists more of writing and presenting, since I am nearing the end of my study. However, in the beginning, my time consisted more of research and discovery of current techniques and assessing the limitations of the current software and how it could be improved. The remainder of the day involved developing experiments that I personally conducted and finding ways to relay the data collected in the lab to participants. We want to make sure that both the technology and the data can be presented in a way that is easy to understand and will have a positive impact on the user, helping to monitor gait, balance, stability or whatever metric is needed.

Q: Where do you hope this technology will be used in the future?

A: In the future, I hope this technology will help anyone struggling with their gait, balance or coordination. A lot of multiply disabled individuals have trouble moving certain limbs, so if we can tailor a system to their needs, we can allow them to hear the music they respond to the best, while performing a task they find difficult. This will give them the right motivation and guide them through the movement patterns of basic tasks, improving their quality of lives. I also hope that this type of technology will be more accessible in that people will be able to monitor their gait patterns from their phones in their pockets, obtaining data that way.

Q: How do you see your Stevens master’s degree helping you in the future?

A: Taking classes and conducting research has provided me with a dual aspect to my education. Classes like machine learning and sonified biofeedback helped me gain a better understanding of the lab equipment and develop my thesis. Being in charge of my own research, developing the plan and the end goal, helped me improve my project management skills, which I see being useful in my career, whether I am working on my own or with others. 

Q: What advice would you give to someone hoping to pursue their own higher education?

A: Don’t do it just for the degree. Do something you're passionate about that is unique. Whether you are incorporating parts of your background into your research or taking the classes that interest you, make sure you’re not just forcing yourself to move up higher in education, but instead choosing to do so in order to make an impact on an area you are the most excited about. Your main focus should be your motivation.

Learn more about academic programs and research in the Department of Biomedical Engineering: