Hear what the chemicals sound like

Using sonic data processing, the researcher converted the visible light emitted

elements, into sound. He created unique, complex sounds for each of them. Now W. Walker Smith has claimed to have taken the first step towards an interactive musical periodic table.

The researcher will present his findings at the American Chemical Society (ACS) spring meeting. ACS Spring 2023 runs from March 26th to 30th.

Previously, the researcher combined a passion for music,chemistry and transformed the natural vibrations of molecules into a musical composition. “I have observed visual representations of discrete wavelengths of light emitted by elements such as scandium. They were great and intricate. I wanted to turn them into music,” said the authors of the project.

Elements emit visible light when theyare under tension. It consists of several individual wavelengths or specific colors with brightness levels that are unique to each element. But on paper, the sets of wavelengths for different elements are hard to distinguish visually. The task is especially complicated for transition metals, which differ in a thousand individual colors, the author of the study explains. Converting light to sound frequencies is another way to detect differences between elements.

To save as much complexity as possible andthe nuances of the spectra of the elements, Smith consulted with scientists, engineers and musicians. With their help, he created a computer code for sound, which in real time converted the light data of each element into a mixture of notes. Discrete color wavelengths became individual sinusoidal waves, whose frequency corresponded to the frequency of light, and their amplitude corresponded to brightness.

Since some elements had hundreds orthousands of frequencies, the code made it possible to generate notes in real time, forming harmonies and rhythms as they were mixed. “As a result, simpler elements such as hydrogen and helium sound remotely like musical chords, but the rest are distinguished by a more complex set of sounds,” explains the author of the project. For example, calcium sounds like a bell ringing, while zinc reminded the engineer of an "angelic choir".

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Cover illustration: W. Walker Smith and Allen Barker