A new musical periodic table has been obtained by translating the light spectrum of each chemical element into a unique symphony of sounds: the result, which may also prove useful in teaching for the visually impaired, was presented at the American Chemical spring meeting Society (Acs) by its author, W. Walker Smith, a young researcher at Indiana University in the United States.
Combining his great passion for music with that for chemistry, Smith had already translated the natural vibrations of molecules into a musical composition.
"Then I saw visual representations of the wavelengths of light emitted by the elements," says the researcher.
"They were beautiful and complex, and I thought, 'Wow, I really want to turn them into music.'"
From hydrogen to iron, calcium to copper, all chemical elements emit visible light when energized.
This light is made up of various wavelengths (or colors) with brightness levels unique to each element.
But on paper, the wavelengths emitted by different elements are difficult to distinguish visually, especially for transition metals, which can produce thousands of colors.
Converting light into sound frequencies could therefore be an alternative way to help people perceive the differences between elements.
To preserve as much of the complexity and nuance of the light spectra as possible, Smith created a computer code that converts data about the light emitted by each element into a mix of notes, whose frequency corresponds to that of the light and whose amplitude corresponds to brightness.
"The result is that the simplest elements, like hydrogen and helium, sound vaguely like musical chords, while the others have a more complex set of sounds," Smith says.
For example, calcium suggests bells tolling, while zinc resembles an angelic choir.