Volume VII, Issue 2, Spring 2000

Table of Contents

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The Impact of the Arts on Learning

To The Point
Arts Education Enhances “Real Life” Personal Skills
Music “Gets Through” to Autistic Children
Pianists Have More Efficient Brains
Music Rewards Sucking in Sick Infants

Matters of Opinion
Arts and Sciences, Building Bridges

Student Music Scientists
Jonathan Stocking: “Physiological Response to Music Stimuli”

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“Music is more primal, more specific than … day-to-day [happenings]. Music is not about what happens to people but about their states of mind and heart when it is happening.”

Bernard Holland
New York Times
May 14, 2000

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The Impact of the Arts on Learning
Copyright © 2000 Norman M. Weinberger
and the Regents of the University of California. All Rights Reserved.


“The ultimate challenge for American education is to place all children on pathways toward success in school and in life. Through engagement with the arts, young people can better begin lifelong journeys of developing their capabilities and contributing to the world around them. ‘Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning’ also shows that the arts can play a vital role in learning how to learn, an essential ability for fostering achievement and growth throughout their lives. … (It) provides new and important findings of actual learning experiences involving the arts. … (It) presents these research findings, complete with ground-breaking … data and analysis, as articulated by leading American educational researchers. … Perhaps what makes their findings so significant is that they all address ways that our nation’s educational goals may be realized through enhanced arts learning. … As these researchers have confirmed, young people can be better prepared for the 21st century through quality learning experiences in and through the arts.”

— Richard Riley, Secretary of Education



These quotations from Dr. Riley, Secretary of Education, are taken from the introduction to a remarkable report that was issued in October of 1999. This “Champions of Change” document [“COC”] was funded by The GE Fund and The John D. and Catherine T. Macarthur Foundation under the auspices of The Arts Education Partnership and The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

The COC report is not restricted to music or any single subject within arts education. However, music education forms a major part of arts programs included in this document.1 It contains the reports of seven major projects in arts education. The present article will first list some of the major findings. After this, we will discuss the results of some of the studies in greater detail.

Overview: The Arts Change the Learning Experience in Special Ways —

    •  The arts reach students who are not otherwise being reached.

    •  The arts reach students in ways that they are not otherwise being reached.

    •  The arts connect students to themselves and each other.

    •  The arts transform the environment for learning.

    •  The arts provide learning opportunities for the adults in the lives of young people.

    •  The arts provide new challenges for those students already considered successful.

    •  The arts connect learning experiences to the world of real work.

    •  Enable young people to have direct involvement with the arts and artists.

    •  Support extended engagement in the artistic process.

    •  Encourage self-directed learning

    •  Engage community leaders and resources

The Findings of Specific Projects

In the main section of this article, we will report the findings of three specific projects from the COC report. They might be considered in any order but I have chosen a particular sequence to highlight a special aspect of the findings, the local school environment for learning. I believe this is particularly important for at least two reasons. First, it has been largely ignored. Second, the effects of arts education take place within real walls, as an interaction between students and teachers. We need to appreciate this ongoing educational dialogue to fully understand why and how the arts have such a beneficial effect on students. While all the reports are extremely important. I think you will find that the information obtained within specific school setting provides a uniquely valuable resource.

The first project concerns the broadest report of academic performance, the relationship between involvement in arts education and academic performance for 25,000 students across the United States. It provides an interesting contrast for the second project, which is the most specific type of program. This is the Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE) which brings professional arts practitioners. from various disciplines to certain schools. The final, and longest report, is about schools in which arts are an important and continuing part of the normal curriculum. It concerns the performances of students, teachers and their interactions. This report brings new and important insights into how and why arts education facilitates intellectual and personal development in students. It has major implications.

“Involvement in the Arts and Human Development”

The first report is that of James S. Catterall, Richard Chapleu and John Iwanaga of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. They analyzed the extensive database from the National Educational Longitudinal Survey [NELS.88]. This survey obtained information on more than 25,000 secondary school students over a period of 10 years. The very large sample size is noteworthy because it avoids problems encountered with small populations, such as a few classes in a limited number of school settings. The authors studied both the arts in general and then focused on music and theater arts. They were particularly interested in how arts education impacted students from families of lower socio-economic resources (low SES), compared to those from higher levels (high SES).

The overall findings were quite clear. Performance in a wide range of academic subjects and on standardized tests was significantly higher for students involved in sustained arts education. Statistical analyses of academic performance from the 8th through 12th grades further showed that the beneficial effects increased over time. Of particularly importance, low SES students also showed significant improvements if they were involved in arts education. In fact, their relative gains were as great or larger than the high SES students.

Given these findings, it is somewhat troubling to note that the authors also found a significant decrease in arts education involvement from grades 10 to 12. For example, the percent of students taking lessons outside of school hours decreased from 11% to 3%.

An analysis that focused on instrumental music and mathematics was also quite revealing. Dr. Catterall and his associates discovered that music students were far more likely to achieve the highest levels of proficiency in math tests than non-music students. Again, low SES students also benefited. In fact they not only scored higher in math than low SES students who were not involved in music but also better than the average of all students. The positive effects of instrumental music instruction also increased from the 8th to the 10th grades. For example, 21% of eighth grade music students from low SES households scored high in math compared to 11% of non-music low SES students. By grade 12, these figures were 33% and 16%, respectively.

Do these findings definitely show that consistent involvement in arts education, particularly in instrumental music education, causes the high levels of general academic and math performance? Dr. Catterall and his colleagues are quite aware of the challenges that must be met to be able to draw a causal connection. However, they point out that there is good reason to suspect that arts education helps cause the findings because other studies have reported “… that children are more engaged and cognitively involved in school when the arts are part of, or integrated into, the curriculum.” Nonetheless, it might be argued that better students select arts involvement. However, the authors also emphasize that improvements are greater within the same students over time, from the 8th to the 12 grades. This is difficult to explain if the higher performance levels were not caused by continued involvement in the arts.

“The Chicago Arts Partnership in Education (CAPE)”

The Chicago Arts Partnership in Education was begun in 1992. It involves partnerships between local artists and arts agencies and teachers in thirty seven schools. The teacher-artist collaborations included planning instruction to include one of the arts in subjects such as reading or science. A typical project might consist of “…working with an artist to develop an instructional sequence incorporating the art form with an academic teaching objective.” Each project might last several weeks. The visual arts, theatre, music and dance comprised the bulk of arts integration. Major target subjects were reading, social studies, science and math. Examples include teaching the principles of space and motion by the study of dance and learning history by writing a musical composition about the history of Chicago.

Analysis of the effects of the CAPE program was also performed by Dr. Catterall of UCLA, with the assistance of his associate Ms. Lynn Waldorf, also of UCLA. One of their findings was that sixth grade students in CAPE programs exhibited higher math accomplishments than students in other schools. A second finding was that the levels of reading proficiency were higher in sixth graders in CAPE vs. non-CAPE schools. The two groups were also matched on a variety of measures, including neighborhood, family income and academic performance. This strongly suggests that the CAPE programs were responsible for the increased performance. A third effect on academic performance was that ninth grade students in CAPE programs achieved a full grade level of reading above non-CAPE schools. The authors report that students in CAPE programs improved their scores in tests of math.

It is clear than CAPE has been, and no doubt continues to be, a highly valuable program. However it should be noted that CAPE is an “enrichment” program. It was not intended to substitute for arts courses as part of a regular curriculum. This is a particularly important point because many people do not realize that a sustained curriculum, which includes instruction and practice in the fundamentals of music, dance, painting and the other arts, cannot be adequately replaced by periodic use of the arts as an adjunct to “standard” subjects. One would not expect students to gain competence in math or science were these subjects taught only as adjuncts to other subjects. The same holds true for music and the other arts.

“Learning In and Through the Arts”

We conclude this review by considering an extensive study performed by Judith Burton, Robert Horowitz and Hal Abeles, of the Center for Arts Education Research at Columbia University. It involved 2046 children in grades 4, 5, 7, and 8 in 12 public schools in New York Connecticut, Virginia and South Carolina. Instead of focussing on academic test performances and arts involvement, these researchers dug into the basic intellectual processes and personal attributes that are at the foundation of cognitive development and resultant enhanced test performance. They also studied the school situation, the effects of arts curricula on teachers and on their interactions with students.

Students were tested in several ways to provide the core information about the potential effects of arts education. Several types of standard tests were given, along with tests of creative thinking, self-concept and new tests to evaluate school atmosphere. Teachers were also tested on several measures, as well as providing their own views of their students.

The schools represented a cross-section of different levels of involvement with the arts. They were rated according to the role of arts subjects in the curriculum and the amount of time students were involved in arts education. Dr. Burton and her colleagues specifically compared the students and schools in which arts were most predominant with those in which they had the least role. Beneficial effects were seen in all areas: students’ thinking abilities, their approaches to problems, their attitudes toward learning and their perception of themselves as active learners. Importantly, these benefits were not limited to a particular subject matter or classroom situation, but rather were evident in most if not all of the learning situations that students encountered. Additionally, school climates were better and teachers were more involved in their work. Finally, the results were due to the school programs themselves, not to differences in background or socioeconomic status. Let’s consider some of these findings in more detail.

Creative Thinking — Students involved in high arts schools were superior to those in low arts schools in each of the following characteristics.

    •  Solutions: a greater number of ideas or approaches to solve problems

    •  Originality: more innovative approaches to solving problems

    •  Elaboration: mentally constructing more detail in formulating solutions

    •  Resistance to Closure: tendency to keep an open mind, to avoid rushing to premature judgements or being satisfied too quickly with a possible solution

Please note that these characteristics of creative thinking are not subject-specific. They do not apply in particular to math, science, history, social studies, biology or any particular subject. Rather, they describe highly prized attributes involving cognitive attitude. Furthermore, these characteristics are in no sense limited to school situations. These approaches to life are “fully portable”. Students can carry them forth in as they meet any situation. Please also note that these characteristics are highly prized, not simply by parents, teachers and school administrators, but by the “real world”, be it commerce, government, or education, whether using cutting edge technology or one-on-one personal methods.

General Competencies — Students in the schools with high arts involvement were superior to students in low arts schools in other important areas.

    •  Expression: better able to express their thoughts and ideas to teachers and peers and to do so in different ways.

    •  Risk-taking: they were more willing to take a risk, showing an increased willingness to try new things, use new materials and approaches, even at the risk of failing; more willing to risk expressing their own novel ideas to peers and parents

    •  Cooperation: they worked better with peers and with teachers

    •  Synthesis: better at unifying divergent thoughts, feeling and facts

Perception of Self as Learner — High arts students also had better self concepts regarding school:

    •  Higher self-concept in reading, math and general academics

    •  Teachers rated them as having more self-confidence.

The Perspectives of Teachers — As noted above, the teachers also participated in the testing. Those in schools with high levels of arts education identified five effects of arts learning.

    •  The ability to express ideas and feelings opening and thoughtfully.

    •  The ability to form relationships among different items and arrange them to solve problems.

    •  The ability to imagine a problem from different points of view and work toward a resolution.

    •  The ability to organize thoughts and ideas into meaningful units.

    •  The ability to engage in sustained and focused attention.

School Climate — This seems to be a rare study in which the relationship between the degree of arts programs has been related to the overall atmosphere of the school. The researchers found:

    •  Better rapport between teachers and students.

    •  Better interactions and relationships between teachers both within and outside of arts.

    •  Increased innovation among teachers.

    •  Greater curricular flexibility.

    •  More support from the principal with less rigid control.

    •  Greater professional interest and self-development by teachers.

Relationship to Socio-Economic Status — These beneficial effects of arts education were not tied to higher socio-economic schools or student populations. In fact, some of the most striking findings were seen in low socio-economic situations.

Implications for Arts Competencies in Other Subjects — The authors examined their data to determine in what other subjects or circumstances one might find the effects of benefits obtained from arts education. They listed the following —

    •  When pupils need to figure out ideas on their own.

    •  When there is a need to organize thinking in light of different kinds of experience

    •  Knowledge needs to be tested in new and original ways.

    •  A situation benefits from task perseverance, empathy and collaboration with others.

Two points should be made at this juncture. First, independent assessments of students and teachers are in remarkable agreement. This is unlike many situations in which students and teachers have very different perceptions of what is going on in a classroom. Second, these general competencies are extremely important in all walks of life.

Dr. Burton and her colleagues sum up the implications very nicely in several ways, and their own words are most elegant.

   “In subjects such as science, mathematics, and language, invitations to accommodate conflicting ideas, to formulate new and better ways of representing thoughts, and to take risks and leaps call forth a complex of cognitive and creative capacities. These capacities are typical of arts learning[ital. mine].”

   “When well grounded in the kind of learning we observed, the arts develop children’s minds in powerful ways. In arts learning young people become adept at dealing with high levels of ambivalence and uncertainty, and they become accustomed to discovering internal coherence among conflicting experiences. Since young people live in worlds that present them with different beliefs, moralities, and cultures, schools should be the place where learning fosters the reconciliation of apparent differences.”

   “The results of our study offer empirical evidence that learning in arts rich schools is complex and that it is more successful when supported by a rich continuing and sequential curriculum.”

And finally —

   “It appears that a narrowly conceived curriculum, in which the arts are either not offered or are offered in limited and sporadic amounts, exerts a negative effect on the development of critical cognitive competencies and personal dispositions [ital. mine].”

General Conclusions

We have covered a lot of information, so let’s see what conclusions can be drawn. There are several “take home messages” about specific academic performance.

    •  Students involved in arts education achieve higher levels of performance in “standard” subjects, at all levels — grade school, middle school, high school.

    •  The positive effects of arts education occurs across many “standard” academic subjects.

    •  The greater the involvement in the arts, the greater the positive effects.

    •  Benefits develop across socio-economic levels.

    •  Higher performance levels are achieved both through involvement in regular arts classes and by special enrichment by bringing local artists into planning and direct instructional activities.

These are impressive findings. They are highly valuable. However, they tell only parts of the story. They tell about final outcomes, as measured by performance on tests of achievement in reading, math and similar subjects. But they do not explain why arts education is beneficial. Nor do they speak to the larger world within which students live on a daily basis, and which they will enter full time after completing their formal education.

The findings of the Columbia study are particularly relevant to these issues. As summarized above, the investigators obtained critical information about the mental capabilities and personal approaches of students to learning. They discovered that high arts curricula specifically develop the types of thinking and behavior that are needed to succeed in any situation, be it scholastic or “real world”. From creativity to keeping an open mind, from persistence to mental agility, from the ability to synthesize divergent views to increased cooperation, from a better self-image as a capable learner to the ability to better express thoughts and ideas — these are not simply nice characteristics; they are vital characteristics that can generalize across life experiences and opportunities.

How does this “magic” happen. It’s no magic at all but further study is needed both to expand inquiry and to better understand the findings as they come in. But even at this relatively early stage, we can note some important factors. Students like the arts. In addition to learning the fundamental concepts about how to perceive in the arts and how to shape the material of an art form, be it sound or clay, they can get connected to innumerable ideas, topics and situations through the arts. The involved teachers are more interested and committed, perhaps in part because student enthusiasm is “contagious”. This all depends upon an understanding and supportive administration, usually led by the school principal. Arts education appears to really bring out the best in students, capitalizing on their natural curiosity and allowing it to flourish in a varied, stimulating environment.

— N. M. Weinberger

1  “Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning” may be obtained from the Arts Education Partnership or downloaded from their web site at http://aep-arts.org

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To The Point
Copyright © 2000 Norman M. Weinberger
and the Regents of the University of California. All Rights Reserved.


“To the Point” provides a rapid way to get up-to-date information on important findings, in a reader-friendly format. It will also provide a capsule summary of a lengthy MRN article, as in the present issue which contains “The Impact of the Arts on Learning.” We hope you will find “To The Point” interesting and helpful. We’d be pleased to hear from you.

— N.M. Weinberger


Studies show that middle school and high school students who are involved in music and other arts curricula have better “real life” skills than students who have low levels of arts education. Drs. Burton, Horowitz and Abeles at Columbia University have found that the mental problem-solving abilities of arts students are greatly increased. These students are more original, devise more possible solutions, have greater focused attention, are more innovative and are better able to integrate diverse facts and ideas. They also develop better personal attitudes and social abilities. For example, arts students are more self-confident, express their ideas better and are more cooperative working with other students and with teachers. These benefits are found across socio-economic levels. These mental and interpersonal skills are highly prized throughout society and are applicable throughout life. [source: The Impact of the Arts on Learning, MRN, Spring 2000]

Autistic children are impaired in noticing and responding to the emotional expressions of other people. To determine if they have the ability to respond to emotions from other stimuli, Dr. P. Heaton and co-workers at the Psychiatric Institute in London asked children with autistic disorders to match happy and sad musical selections with simple drawings of happy and sad faces. The autistic children did as well as normal children of the same age and intelligence. The findings show both that children suffering from autism have intact abilities to sense emotions in stimuli and that music is a way to “get through” to them. [source: Psychological Medicine, 1999, 29, 1405-1410]

Scientists in Germany have discovered that pianists have more efficient brains. A group led by Dr. Timo Krings required pianists and non-musicians of the same age and sex to perform complex sequences of finger movements. Their brains were scanned using a technique called “functional magnetic resonance imaging” (fMRI) which detects the activity levels of brain cells, by measuring changes in blood flow. The non-musicians were able to make the movements as correctly as the pianists. However, the amount of brain activity in areas controlling movement was different. The pianists made the correct movements while having less brain activation. Thus, compared to non-musicians, the brains of pianists are more efficient at making skilled movements. These findings show that musical training can enhance brain function [source: Neuroscience Letters, 2000, 278, 189-198]

Babies who are premature or born with illness or a congenital disorder are at great risk. Lack of adequate suckling and nutrition is one of the severe problems. Now Dr. Jayne Standley, Professor of Music Therapy at Florida State University, has devised an approach that has promise to alleviate the situation. Two such infants in neonatal intensive care were given special pacifiers that contained a sensor that was connected to a music delivery system. This method, “Pacifier-Activated-Lullabies” (PAL) enables a sick infant to turn on music when it sucks. Dr. Standley found that the infants soon learned to suck to obtain lullabies. This rewarding effect of music provides both desired sound to the infants and gives them much needed practice for suckling. [source: International Journal of Arts Medicine, 1999, 6, 17-21]

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Matters of Opinion
Copyright © 2000 Norman M. Weinberger
and the Regents of the University of California. All Rights Reserved.


Arts and Sciences, Building Bridges

The following opinions about music are intended to provoke thought, encourage discussion and sometimes-even argument, but ultimately to energize and enlarge conceptions and inquiry about music.

This issue of MRN focuses on the effects of arts education. In summarizing several reports from ‘Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning’, I had several goals in mind. First, to increase awareness of contemporary research and findings on arts education. A key point is that research approaches vary greatly, from analysis of national statistics on the arts and academic performance to highly specific artists-teachers partnership programs. Because of this diversity, these different approaches provide unique and valuable insights. A second goal is to highlight studies that transcend measures of academic performance by directing attention to the effects of the arts on the underlying cognitive processes, mental attitudes and personal attributes of students within the school setting. Third, to also emphasize the critical importance of understanding the positive effects of arts education on teachers, and through student-teacher interactions, on the school learning environment. A fourth aim is to expand our usual range of thinking beyond music itself to music as part of a larger arts education context.

While one may have a particular interest in music or another subject, we need to avoid the conceptual isolation that could be self-defeating. What is learned about the other arts is of value to music study and vice-versa. So we need to remind ourselves to build bridges to other arts disciplines and keep in good repair those bridges already in place.

There are other bridges. In April of this year, an unusual conference convened in Irvine, California. Entitled ‘The Sciences for the Arts’, the conference was organized by the Arts Bridge program. Originated by Dean Jill Beck of the School of the Arts at the University of California Irvine, vigorous Arts Bridge programs have been established at the other seven UC campuses. UC ArtsBridge is the UC arts education outreach program. It works in partnership with California public schools, providing scholarships to qualified UC arts students, graduate and undergraduate, to plan and teach the arts by working with teachers to integrate arts across the curriculum.

‘The Sciences for the Arts’ builds yet another bridge. The goals of the conference were to bring the scientific, artistic, and educational communities together, to review recent research results applicable to arts education and to address some of the current misunderstandings in research bridging brain/behavior research and the arts. It also initiated exploration of research possibilities inherent in the network of UC ArtsBridge sites. The overriding goal was “… to build a coalition in support of restoring the arts to our schools in innovative ways that affirm the intrinsic and instrumental values of the arts.” That process is in its early stages.

The subject of this Conference is of special interest to me because I participated in its planning and implementation. But I hope it will also prove to be of special interest to many others. Although originating from the UC Arts Bridge initiative, it drew speakers and participants from across the United States. Its “Proceedings” will be published. In the interim, I’d like to mention a few points now.

First, the current distinction, one might even say cleavage, between the sciences and the arts is a relatively new one across the broad sweep of human history. Dr. Diana Deutsch, of UC San Diego, presented an insightful and illuminating history of relationships between the arts and the sciences. She noted that a distinction between the two areas would have puzzled the most accomplished individuals from Antiquity through the Renaissance up to the Industrial Revolution. Historically, at least since Pythagoras (c. 530 B.C.), music and mathematics were considered to be sibling disciplines. Figures such as Galileo were not only practitioners of both the sciences and the arts, but also saw an extremely close relationship across these now separate domains. Newton linked physics to music as well. And for most of human intellectual history, music and other arts comprised an essential component of education. The advent of the extreme division of labor probably contributed to the split. Perhaps this resulted from a focus on the products of effort rather than on the processes of thinking and problem solving.

In any event, the Columbia University findings seem relevant to relationships between the arts and the sciences because the beneficial approaches to cognition and action that can result from a high arts curriculum, while often born and nurtured in the arts, apply to the subjects of science as well. So a rapprochement between the arts and sciences may begin within the individual brain. It is true that the sciences use methods, such as experimental design, that are special to them. But the methods alone are not sufficient. It is the thinking behind the methods, that is critical for success.

A second lesson of the conference came not from the podium but from the audience. While unanimity of opinion was not present (nor should have been), unanimity of interest could be sensed. Arts educators and representatives of various arts agencies and foundations were deeply involved in the proceedings. Their questions were insightful and incisive and appropriately challenging. As arts educators increasingly come to see the importance of asking research questions in a rigorous manner, so scientists increasingly need to better understand the actual classroom situation. This jointly beneficial dialogue is a ship recently launched. We look forward to the voyage.

— N. M. Weinberger

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Student Music Scientists
Copyright © 2000 Norman M. Weinberger
and the Regents of the University of California. All Rights Reserved.


“Student Music Scientists” is a new, occasional, feature of MRN. As the importance of music becomes increasingly recognized by the public, the natural curiosity of students is engaged. MuSICA maintains a continual correspondence with students of all ages who have decided to perform music research. Now, students have begun sending us their results. While their findings are not expected to be definitive, they are certainly worthy of recognition. Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders in music research.


“Physiological Response to Music Stimuli” by Jonathan Stocking

Jonathan Stocking is a 17 year old junior at Hedgesville High School in Hedgesville, West Virginia. His study was awarded 1st place in the Behavioral and Social Sciences category at the West Virginia State Science Fair. He also received a cash award on behalf of Marshall University to further his research.

The subjects were twenty-six volunteers who either listened to four minutes of Mozart’s Piano Sonata #1 in C major (16 subjects) or silence (10 subjects). Heart rate and blood pressure were measured before and after the music or silence. Although heart rate results were unclear, there was a statistically significant decrease in blood pressure in the music group.

Jonathan then hypothesized that the alpha rhythm of brain waves would be increased by the Mozart sonata because the decrease in blood pressure seemed related to increased relaxation and alpha waves have been linked to relaxation. He then arranged to run two subjects at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. A highly sophisticated apparatus was used to simultaneously obtain brain waves from 32 scalp electrodes and to process the data, yielding complete “maps” of changes in brain wave activity across the entire brain. Jonathan reported that although most brain waves were unchanged, the alpha rhythm did increase in relation to the music.

Jonathan wishes to acknowledge the help of Dr. Keiichiro Toma at the NIH, the Loudoun Country Regional Library, the Sterling Public Library, his parents and siblings.


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