• Physics 16, 6
Reworking the spectral traces of every factor right into a musical tone supplies a enjoyable device for teasing out patterns within the digital buildings of atoms.
Early in her tenure as a physics teacher at Skidmore School, New York, Jill Linz wished to meld her classical music background together with her skilled scientific life. She discovered a venue for this crossing of disciplines in a undertaking that mapped atomic information into distinctive audible tones. Now, what began as an academic device has led her to create an entire “aural periodic desk.” By analyzing the waveforms and tonal qualities of every factor within the desk, she’s starting to discover how this “sonification” of atoms would possibly reveal surprising structural relationships amongst parts. The work was introduced on the 183rd Assembly of the Acoustical Society of America.
Linz’s unique motivation for sonification of atoms got here in 1997 whereas instructing a course on musical acoustics and digital synthesis strategies. “I wished to make cool sounds!” she says. And that she did, by producing waveforms that represented the spectral traces of carbon, hydrogen, and different easy parts. These spectral traces correspond to transitions between digital vitality states, which end in gentle emission at particular frequencies. Linz took these gentle frequencies and expressed them as audible frequencies on a scale from 0 to 1000 Hz. She then enter the transformed frequencies and the relative amplitudes—a price akin to the brightness of that shade part—right into a digital audio program that mixed them to kind a uncooked base sound. Lastly, making use of an exponential decay to this sound, she created a “plucked string” tone that sounds extra pleasing to the ear. These unique atom tones impressed classical and up to date music items, with scientific evaluation a distant thought.
As an educator and a physicist, nevertheless, accuracy was paramount to Linz. Because the Atom Music undertaking expanded and have become a preferred course amongst each science and nonscience college students, Linz’s physics and chemistry colleagues urged her to publish her strategies and full a complete periodic desk. “The unique thought was from chemistry, for blind college students who couldn’t see charts or spectral traces,” she says. On the time, she had solely created tones for the eight easiest parts, however she determined in 2016 to do the identical for all the weather within the periodic desk. “Ensuring the science was right and seeing all of it by way of turned out to be rather more tough than I initially thought.”
Utilizing information from the Nationwide Institute of Requirements and Expertise, Linz and a analysis scholar pored over the spectral traces which were noticed for every factor. “There’s no mathematical approach to automate this,” says Linz, noting that some parts have a whole bunch of particular person traces that mix collectively. She needed to develop an algorithm to find out which traces have been essential for making a sound and which weren’t. Then, utilizing audio engineering software program, she utilized signal-processing strategies to create sounds from the mathematical sum of every set of traces.
By November 2022, Linz had lastly accomplished the audible periodic desk. Her chemistry colleagues instantly wished to know if any of the periodic desk teams—metals, noble gases, alkalines—might be recognized by their sounds. Do all the weather, for instance, within the transition metallic group share a selected tone high quality? “We may see some correlations between the waveforms of various parts. However these correlations didn’t match any periodic desk groupings,” says Linz. Periodic desk teams are based mostly on outer shell electrons and the way they are often shared between atoms to kind chemical bonds. Spectral traces, nevertheless, are based mostly on the transitions that electrons make inside a single atom. “It is smart that periodic desk teams didn’t present the identical patterns as sounds created from spectral traces,” says Linz.
As an alternative, Linz and her colleagues are exploring what patterns seem by grouping parts in response to how harmonious they sound. One sample they’ve discovered thus far is that decrease mass parts—similar to carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen—are inclined to have dissonant tones. These gentle parts’ spectral traces are spaced throughout all the spectrum. In distinction, heavier metals similar to lead have purer tones that are typically greater pitched. These parts’ spectral traces are a lot nearer collectively, leading to a waveform that approaches a clear sine wave. However there’s an exception throughout the heavy metals: Thallium is unusually dissonant. “It doesn’t belong. That is the kind of outlier sample that intrigues me,” says Linz.
Going ahead, she desires to extra carefully study correlations between waveform varieties and qualities. Is there a connection between parts which have a high-pitched, sinusoidal sound? Or ones which might be dissonant and clangy? Can these patterns present details about the atom’s interior construction? A sound engineer doesn’t simply take heed to the tone but additionally pays consideration to the digital waveform and the spectral distribution. Maybe music-curious physicists and chemists can do the identical to realize details about the atomic parts.
The audible periodic desk is proving its intrigue for music and science alike. The atom sounds have already impressed a number of musical initiatives: a composition of “water” music made by mixing the notes from the hydrogen and oxygen spectra, improvisational work based mostly on the musical scales of various parts, and a blues music drawn from the “chords” of the helium atom. Upcoming performances embrace the Atomic Suite for a string orchestra and a bit based mostly on the tone signatures of iron and oxygen—key elements of pink blood cell transport. College students attending the Acoustical Society of America’s winter assembly known as the atom music “superior” and approached Linz about working together with her on each music synthesis and physics analysis. She says, “I really feel that what I’ve created is a brand new device to research the atomic world. I really hope that others discover it a great tool as effectively.”
Rachel Berkowitz is a Corresponding Editor for Physics Journal based mostly in Vancouver, Canada.