Musical stairs: Johns Hopkins students transform steps into giant piano

Video: Len Turner and David Schmelick

Taking the stairs is good for heart health, doctors say.

At Johns Hopkins University's Hackerman Hall, it can also improve your mood.

A flight of steps on the building's north side was recently transformed into a giant piano of sorts that serenades—and sometimes surprises—with a burst of notes as people walk from the first floor to the second (or vice versa). Think "Big"—as in, Tom Hanks in FAO Schwarz.

The Homewood "piano staircase" is the brainchild of members of the Hopkins Robotics Club, a new organization of about 100 students with majors ranging from electrical and computer engineering to mechanical engineering, computer science, and the humanities.

"We thought it would be something fun to do to make people smile and let people know about the Hopkins Robotics Club," said Max Yelsky, a sophomore electrical and computer engineering major who is president of the group. "We had a bunch of sensors lying around, and we figured it would be cool to build something the community might like."

It took club members about five hours to install the project, which Yelsky characterized as "fairly simple." Blue tape shows where the notes can be activated and also the scale, from low C to high C.

"The circuitry was pretty straightforward: the hard part was some of the programming," said Yelsky, who worked with Elliott Binder, a sophomore computer engineering major, on the circuitry and construction. Two other sophomores, Jordan Matelsky (computer science) and Michael Lombardo (computer engineering), wrote the code.

"The best part is watching people use it," Yelsky said. "The other day I saw a professor on his hands and knees, going up and down and playing a tune."