Saturday, June 30, 2012

Molecular Chords - A Musical Periodic Table

"One day, my system will be used
to categorize cupcakes, texts, and
crooked politicians."
Dmitri Mendeleev had a good thing going. Not only did his periodic table allow him to predict the properties of "missing" elements, it also provided a future template for all sorts of pop-culture catalogues - from beer and QR codes, to chocolate and shoes. Even the universe has one! If you want to get really meta, there's even an online collection (wait for it...) a periodic table of periodic tables.

While researching an upcoming post, I encountered a few 'Periodic Tables of Music.' Here's one for jazz, and another for pop music. But what about a table where the atoms themselves compose the music?

Enter Mahadev Kumbar, an Adjunct Professor at Nassau Community College in New Jersey. I found his Musical Periodic Table in a 2007 article and associated lecture series written for the Journal of Chemical Education.

From his introduction:
"One (perhaps surprising) aspect of the natural world is that each and every process in nature—chemical or otherwise—produces some kind of sound, whether audible (20 Hz–20 kHz) or nonaudible (<0 Hz and >20 kHz), characteristic of that process. Those sounds, I believe, are the music that is the universal language of the natural world."
To construct his table, Kumbar grabbed a few lines from each element's emission spectrum. He then mathematically transformed the energies of elemental electronic transitions into characteristic notes played by each atom. 

Kumbar also notes that "atoms...clustered together...tend to generate unique and distinct music." Perhaps each element could be considered a player in a nanoscale symphony: for instance, silver bromide (AgBr) plays a beautiful open third (C6-E6), while bleach (sodium hypochlorite, NaOCl) plays more of an inverted C#min chord, stretched across three octaves (E5-G6-C#7).


  1. The whole world and the universe is a simphony to God. He voiced them in to being through the sound of his voice. By singing the right note the atoms where created. Dieter

  2. This is excellent information, thank you. I compose and perform electronic music and plan to experiment with this concept going forward. I have believed for a long time what Dieter expresses above: the Word was the vibration that science refers to as "The Big Bang". From that vibration, and as it passed through the intial light(photons) created by that instantaneous, staggeringly momentous vibration(wave) all matter with all it's properties was created.

  3. I personally think that it's really useful to expose even very young children to such creative educational and musical tunes. It exposes them both to science and music table videos for kids can contribute a lot to the development of their memory and analytic skills.

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