Arts & Culture: Materials as Musical Muses

May 04, 2018

iARTA Participant Marco Boungiorno Nardelli's MaterialsSoundMusic project creates data-driven music through an algorithm that maps a material’s energy bands onto the 88 keys of a piano. Buongiorno Nardelli, who is now a professor of physics at the University of North Texas (UNT), conceived his project at the time of the Materials Genome Initiative, which the White House launched in 2011 to accelerate the discovery of new materials. As part of this initiative, he participated in the development of AFLOWLIB—an online database cataloging the properties of millions of existing or theorized materials. Researchers around the globe can freely access the database to fish for a superconductor, metal, or ceramic that best suits their application.

In developing this database, Buongiorno Nardelli pondered two questions. The first had to do with sifting through AFLOWLIB’s massive amounts of data. How could the properties of a material be represented so that researchers can quickly perceive and evaluate them? The second was an outreach challenge. Materials aren’t as sexy as black hole mergers or the “God particle.” How could electronic properties or crystal lattices be made more appealing to the public’s imagination? For Buongiorno Nardelli, who’d been playing and composing music since the age of six, the obvious answer to both questions was to use sound...