Scientists create unique musical signatures for every element in the periodic table


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Asegun Henry, a scientist at Georgia Tech, has applied for a National Science Foundation grant to create an educational app that catalogues unique musical signatures for every element in the periodic table. Setting the motions of molecules to musical signatures and even music can help identify hidden patterns in their data that might otherwise be too small, or occur over such short time scales that they’re easily missed by the human eye.

“My hope is that it will be an interesting tool to teach the periodic table, but also to give people some notion about the idea that the entire universe is moving around and making noise. You just can’t hear it.” (as reported to Gizmodo)

This is sonification of the vibration of an atom in crystalline silicon at 300K modeled with the Tersoff potential. The sound was generated from a single atom’s velocity vs. time and was slowed down by a factor of order 10^10, so that ~ 5 ns of vibration occurs in ~ 50 sec. No other processing, filtering or modification of the data has been done.

Materials get their properties from molecular structure. But those component molecules aren’t static objects; they are constantly vibratingas the bonds between the atoms that make up molecules move about. The simplest toy model is that of two (or three) round balls attached by a flexible spring that can move in various ways. They can rock back and forth like a pendulum, stretch, twist, and wag. And those vibrations interact with each other like waves.

The more atoms in a molecule, the more combinations between the various “vibrational modes” (different kinds of waves) are possible. “How the energy of the interaction changes with respect to the distance between the molecules dictates a lot of the physics,” said Henry, such as how well a given material conducts heat (a property known as thermal conductivity).

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The periodic table is a tabular arrangement of the chemical elements, ordered by their atomic number (number of protons),electron configurations, and recurring chemical properties. This ordering shows periodic trends, such as elements with similar behavior in the same column. It also shows four rectangular blocks with some approximately similar chemical properties. In general, within one row (period) the elements are metals on the lefthand side, and non-metals on the righthand side.

The rows of the table are called periods; the columns are called groups. Six groups (columns) have names as well as numbers: for example, group 17 elements are the halogens; and group 18, the noble gases. The periodic table can be used to derive relationships between the properties of the elements, and predict the properties of new elements yet to be discovered or synthesized. The periodic table provides a useful framework for analyzing chemical behavior, and is widely used in chemistry and other sciences.

Dmitri Mendeleev published in 1869 the first widely recognized periodic table. He developed his table to illustrate periodic trends in the properties of the then-known elements. Mendeleev also predicted some properties of then-unknown elements that would be expected to fill gaps in this table. Most of his predictions were proved correct when the elements in question were subsequently discovered. Mendeleev’s periodic table has since been expanded and refined with the discovery or synthesis of further new elements and the development of new theoretical models to explain chemical behavior.

All elements from atomic numbers 1 (hydrogen) to 118 (ununoctium) have been discovered or synthesized, with elements 113, 115, 117, and 118 being confirmed by the IUPAC on December 30, 2015. The first 94 elements exist naturally, although some are found only in trace amounts and were synthesized in laboratories before being found in nature.  Elements with atomic numbers from 95 to 118 have only been synthesized in laboratories. It has been shown that elements 95 to 100 once occurred in nature but currently do not. Synthesis of elements having higher atomic numbers is being pursued. Numerous synthetic radionuclides of naturally occurring elements have also been produced in laboratories.