Scientist Turns Each Element of the Periodic Table into Music

February 26, 2016 | Elizabeth Knowles

Treble clef and atoms

The entire universe is making noise, you just can’t hear it.

If you’ve ever taken high school chemistry, you probably remember suffering through the task of memorizing many elements of the periodic table — their position and their atomic number. As with most sciences, studying the elements of the periodic table can be tedious, but it is also useful and can reveal the beauty of the world around us.

Mechanical engineer Asegun Henry has come up with a way to make learning about the periodic table more interesting and stimulating: he has linked each element to a particular “musical signature” and can create music from them.

“My hope is that it will be an interesting tool to teach the periodic table, but also to give people some notion about the idea that the entire universe is moving around and making noise. You just can’t hear it." Henry told Gizmondo.

SEE ALSO: Bizarre Musical Instrument Plays Music Using Sea Waves

Not only might this help science students, Henry envisions his methods helping scientists analyse constantly shifting molecular structures and hear chemistry — molecules and chemical bonds. In fact, he and his graduate student, Wei Lv, have successfully used it to analyse polymers and determine previously unobserved properties.

The sound given to each element is determined based on the speed at which its atoms are vibrating.

“[Y]ou’ll be able to hear the difference between something low on the periodic table and something like carbon that’s very high. One will sound high-pitched, and one will sound low," Henry told Gizmondo.

This isn’t the first time that music and science have been combined with interesting results. Composer Arthur Jeffes recently used the sounds from the first gravitational wave detection to create interstellar music.

Henry’s next step is to put together a catalogue of musical signatures for elements at Georgia Tech. He is creating an application that anyone will be able to use to compose molecular music. He has published his research in the Journal of Applied Physics and has applied for a National Science Foundation grant for the app.

You can listen to one of the musical signatures below — crystalline silicon — and head to SoundCloud to hear some more, like the difference between a divergent and convergent polymer.


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