About the Radioactive Orchestra

What is the Radioactive Orchestra?

The Radioactive Orchestra is a “scientific musical translator” based on our current knowledge of the structure of atomic nuclei in nuclear physics. Using the Radioactive Orchestra, you can make melodies that are based on the nuclear energy levels and gamma radiation observed in experiments at accelerator laboratories around the world.

Detailed information from thousands of different nuclei across the “chart of the nuclides” is available in the Radioactive Orchestra database. Some of this radiation is found due to natural radioactivity, which is present in the environment and in our bodies. But most of it can only be found in the extreme environments created artificially in nuclear reaction experiments or nuclear reactors, in the interior of stars, or in other violent astrophysical processes like supernova explosions. Start exploring the Radioactive Orchestra and you will hear a new world unravel as music from the microcosmos!

Why did we create the Radioactive Orchestra?

Our goal is to inspire. We hope to achieve increased awareness of the beauty of nature, even at its smallest scale, and hence to stimulate interest in basic science. Equally important to us is the creative, musical dimension - to inspire the breaking of new ground. There is a lot in common between science and art. We hope the Radioactive Orchestra will contribute to strengthening the bond between the two.

How does it work?

Sequences of sounds (”melodies”) are created when the Radioactive Orchestra simulates what happens in an atomic nucleus as it decays from its excited states down toward its ground state. This decay happens in steps between the different energy levels in the nucleus. Each transition corresponds to the emission of a photon, a “gamma ray” which is a characteristic energy equalling the difference in energy between the levels.

Every nuclide has its own unique set of excited states and decay patterns, creating its own musical fingerprint. Since the microcosmic world is ruled by quantum mechanics, even each decay sequence is unique. It is a stochastic, random process, which leads to virtually infinite variations.

The Radioactive Orchestra uses information on transition energies and transition probabilities (each decay can often proceed to different lower-lying levels, with certain probabilities that can be deduced from experiments) in order to decide which kind of photon to emit. Its energy (measured in kiloelectronvolts, keV) is converted to an audible frequency in Hertz. The higher the gamma ray energy, the higher the pitch of the sound you will hear. This is also visualized graphically as a coloured gamma ray emitted from a schematic image of the nucleus. The colour of the photon corresponds to the energy, similarly to the colours of a rainbow. Using control buttons, the Radioactive Orchestra enables the user to modify the sounds and they are normally constrained to a musical scale. Several different nuclides can be made to “radiate music” simultaneously. The results can be stored in various file formats or exported into different applications.


TRO is based on an idea by Prof. Bo Cederwall, KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Initiative: KSU

Team and concept design: KollektivetLivet

Feature Artist: Axel Boman

Musical koncept: Kristofer Hagbard, Ideofon

Software development: Illianced

Project management, copy and web design: FamiljenPangea

Science and Technical advisors: Bo Cederwall, Torbjörn Bäck, Arne Johnson KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Sponsors: KSU, KTH Royal Institute of Technology

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Brought to you by: KSU Royal Institute of Technology