W. Walker Smith Sound of Elements

Musical instrument invented to decipher the sound of every element on periodic table

The music and sounds of nature can offer a beautiful composition of medleys and lyrics, from the rushing sound of a brook to the call of birds, it is impossible to ignore the sounds of the world around us.  Now one recent college graduate has combined his love for chemistry and music and created a musical instrument designed to translate the elements of the periodic table into musical notes.

Created by W. Walker Smith, the project’s sole researcher, presented his findings at the end of March, at the American Chemical Society’s Spring 2023 gathering which was held both in-person and virtually.  The purpose of his work was to showcase how the emitted wavelengths by individual elements, which are often defined on the color spectrum, could perhaps benefit from being given a sonic designation via musical notes.  While similar projects and studies have been embarked upon in the past, Smith found the previous work limited as it often reduced the wavelengths into single notes, thus limiting the vibrancy of the element.  With the help of Indiana University Professors of David Clemmer, Ph.D., and Chi Wang, D.M.A., Smith was able to build a computer code to reveal the harmonic vibrations, often revealing elements that displayed hundreds or thousands of frequencies.

“The result is that the simpler elements, such as hydrogen and helium, sound vaguely like musical chords, but the rest have a more complex collection of sounds.”

Smith notes how calcium sounds like bells chiming together, and zinc reveals itself to be similar to “an angelic choir singing a major chord with vibrato.”  With the frequencies properly analyzed, and despite some off-key or microtones contained amongst the periodic table, Smith kept the notes true to their original frequencies as he aimed for the next part of the project, creating a musical instrument:

“I want to create an interactive, real-time musical periodic table, which allows both children and adults to select an element and see a display of its visible light spectrum and hear it at the same time.”

Smith turned this project into the debut performance during the ACS Spring 2023 event in a special presentation he titled “The Sound of Molecules.”

Image Credit: American Chemical Society (ACS)

Avid music fan, and avid music producer! Producer and songwriter for NOHC.

[email protected]