The Radioactive Orchestra

I found this interactive application where each chemical element is translated into a magical note base on what happens in an atomic nucleus as it decays from its excited states down toward its ground state. This decay happens in steps between the different energy levels in the nucleus. Each transition corresponds to the emission of a photon, a “gamma ray” which is a characteristic energy equalling the difference in energy between the levels.

Every nuclide has its own unique set of excited states and decay patterns, creating its own musical fingerprint. Since the microcosmic world is ruled by quantum mechanics, even each decay sequence is unique. It is a stochastic, random process, which leads to virtually infinite variations.

The Radioactive Orchestra uses information on transition energies and transition probabilities (each decay can often proceed to different lower-lying levels, with certain probabilities that can be deduced from experiments) in order to decide which kind of photon to emit. Its energy (measured in kiloelectronvolts, keV) is converted to an audible frequency in Hertz. The higher the gamma ray energy, the higher the pitch of the sound you will hear. This is also visualized graphically as a coloured gamma ray emitted from a schematic image of the nucleus. The colour of the photon corresponds to the energy, similarly to the colours of a rainbow. Using control buttons, the Radioactive Orchestra enables the user to modify the sounds and they are normally constrained to a musical scale. Several different nuclides can be made to “radiate music” simultaneously. The results can be stored in various file formats or exported into different applications.

I felt it was really into the microscopic world of the invisible nuclei.

Radioactive Orchestra


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