Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Grad student creates music from the visible spectra of the elements

"I thought it would be really cool to turn those visible spectra, those beautiful images, into sound."

Some of you may remember looking at images of elements as seen through a spectroscope back in your science classes in school. In spectroscopy, the light from elements can be broken down into various frequencies, which our eyes perceive as different colors. One graduate student at Indiana Univeristy, W. Walker Smith, has taken this concept in a whole new direction.

Pairing his love of chemistry with his love of music, Smith has transcribed the different frequencies of light of various elements into sound waves, turning the these fascinating bands of color into a sort of a musical instrument, or what he calls a “musical periodic table.” Speaking with the American Chemical Society Meeting Newsroom, Smith says, “Eventually, I stumbled across the visible spectra of the elements and I was overwhelmed by how beautiful and different they all look. I thought it would be really cool to turn those visible spectra, those beautiful images, into sound.”

See also: Leia and ZTE partner to create the world’s first glasses-free 3D tablet

As different elements can let through anywhere from relatively few frequencies to thousands, the musical harmonies from each element can vary from a soft musical-sounding chord all the way to an unnerving wall of noise. Smith has utilized these unique characteristics of each material to compose pieces for his show, “The Sound of Molecules.”

“If you listen to the frequencies [of helium] one by one instead of all at once, you get an interesting scale pattern that I have used to make a couple of compositions, including a ‘helium dance party,” says Smith, of one of his favorite musical discoveries.

Featured Articles