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Video: Sonifying Simulations

Asegun Henry, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech

Scientists typically understand data through graphs and visualizations. But is it possible to use sound to interpret complex information? This video from Georgia Tech’s Asegun Henry shows the Sonification of the vibrations of an atom in crystalline silicon. 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 nanoseconds of vibration occurs in ~ 50 seconds. No other processing, filtering or modification of the data has been done.

Henry believes it is, based on his personal experiences gaining insights from recordings of atomic vibrations. His efforts began when he was trying to understand the results of a simulation of a stretched out polymer chain.

“If you look at the data, it looks like white noise,” Henry said. “We decided to sonify the data, and as soon as we listened to it, we could hear the pattern.”

Henry, who has a background in music, says this makes sense, given the brain’s natural audio processing powers.

“The human ear is better at pattern recognition than the eye is,” Henry said. “If you interact with an organ that’s better, you can find patterns that aren’t obvious.”

Ever since, he has been sonifying the vibrations of various materials as a way to explore their significance.

“When you listen to the speaker, the magnet is doing the same motions the atom is doing,” he said.

Turning atomic properties into sound may also be an effective way to get students interested in physics and materials science. As part of his NSF CAREER award, Henry has been leading a summer outreach program where African-American and women undergraduates, high school music teachers, and high school students are working to convert the vibrations of atoms into sound files.

They will generate results for the entire periodic table and disseminate their findings through a mobile app that lets you listen to every element. Individuals will be able to use the mobile app to make music from these sounds, providing a new way for the public to learn and appreciate the beauty of chemistry.

“The approach of using sonification is rather general and could be meaningful for many areas, as it exploits a basic property of human hearing versus sight,” Henry said. “Hopefully our application will spark more usage throughout science and engineering.”

Read the Full Story from Science Writer Aaron Dubrow.

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