Jill A. Linz – jlinz@skidmore.edu

Skidmore College
815 N. Broadway
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
United States

Christian Howat
Skidmore College, Class of 2022
815 N. Broadway
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

Popular version of 4aMU5-Atom Tones: investigating waveforms and spectra of atomic elements in an audible periodic chart using techniques found in music production, presented at the 183rd ASA Meeting.

Atom Tones is an audible periodic table that allows us to identify elements through sound and to investigate the atomic world with methods used by sound engineers. The periodic table of Atom Tones can be accessed on the Atom Tones website. The Atom Music project was introduced in 2019 and explained the background ideas for creating audible tones for each atom. Each tone is clearly unique and can be used to identify the element by its sound. Audible tones can also be used in conjunction with the visual interpretations of the sound’s waveform to possibly gain insight into the atom.

In the same way that sunlight can be decomposed into individual colors of the rainbow, light produced from different elements can be decomposed into rainbow-like patterns that are unique to that element. The rainbow colors of the element appear as a series of bright lines known as spectral lines, or atomic spectra. Figure 1 shows examples of several element patterns, along with the element’s signature tone. The pattern of lines is unique to each atom.

Figure 1: Spectral lines produced by three different elements. These lines are unique for each element and are used to identify the element itself. The tones can be heard by clicking on each image. Image courtesy of Linz original paper (Proceedings on Meetings in Acoustics)

The relationship between music and physics is so intertwined that translating the spectral lines into sound is a relatively easy thing to do. Tedious perhaps, but not difficult. We can translate those colors into sounds of varying frequency, or pitch. These frequencies act like notes in a scale that can be played individually or combined. It is with these notes that we created the sounds of the elements.

A sound engineer can easily identify specific types of musical instruments as well as the musical intervals and chords played by those instruments by observing the digital waveforms and spectra produced in a recording, in addition to simply listening by ear. Digital audio software adds an extra layer of insight to the sound. Figure 2 shows the different waveforms and spectral lines for a French Horn and Bassoon each playing the same note, D3.

Figure 2: waveform and spectra of a French Horn compared to a Bassoon. Image courtesy of Linz original paper (Proceedings on Meetings in Acoustics)

Using the techniques developed for audio recording and music synthesis, we can create an audible representation of each element. Possible ways to interpret the tones produced are being investigated. Figure 3 shows the waveforms and spectra for a few elements that exhibit wave patterns that repeat themselves. This is what a sound engineer would expect to see when the recording sounds harmonic, or musical.

Figure 3: These are a few atom tones whose waveforms exhibited similar patterns that repeat themselves. Image courtesy of Linz, Howat original paper (Proceedings on Meetings in Acoustics)

Other combinations of elements exhibit very different patterns. The software allows you to zoom in and observe the pattern from different perspectives. Not only are we hearing the atoms for the first time, perhaps we are also seeing them in a new light.

Share This