In November 2017, Alex Gagliano, Universe Awareness Ambassador in the USA, returned from an astronomy outreach festival in Goa, India, called the Story of Space. With his colleague he developed an exhibit for the science center in Goa to explore the elements through sound!
Elements emit unique patterns of light when heated, and each of the colors in the pattern of light has a wavelength and frequency. When the frequencies are slowed down, the pattern of colors can be turned into a pattern of sounds that represents the fingerprint of the element. “By doing this, we've created unique sounds for each element on the periodic table!”
Sound, sight and space at the Story of Space.
The exhibit had keyboards where each key represented a different element. Students could play combinations of sounds and combine elements to create audio representations of the Earth, the Sun, and even the human body.
Next, a Chladni plate translated these patterns of sound into visible vibrations. By stacking the vibrations associated with each sound in an element's fingerprint, a picture can be created for that element. According to Alex, these vibration patterns allow us to identify each element using our hands instead of our eyes.
Participants observing a Chladni plate.
“For the last part of our exhibit, we spatialized the elements in a star for people to interact with. Participants can walk through the star and hear the elements in the star at the point where they're standing.”
Science is for everyone.
With this method, researchers can hear the heavy element nucleosynthesis of oxygen and carbon in the core of the star, and the lighter elements of hydrogen and helium at the star's edge.
Alex Gagliano from the USA has been a Universe Awareness Ambassador since June. Alex and his colleagues, are further developing these methods to help make astronomy more accessible for visually impaired students and researchers.