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Radioactive Orchestra

You and your students can make music using radiation data. But, before you begin, let’s review some background information.


Humankind has always lived in a vast sea of ionizing radiation. It comes from the earth and from outer space, from our food, our air, and our water, from natural sources. Every radioactive substance gives off a specific pattern of emissions. These may be alpha particles, beta particles, or gamma rays — or some combination of these.

We can utilize a radiation monitor or Geiger counter to measure the level of radiation we’re exposed to at a specific moment. We can use the monitor to compare how much radiation comes from two different materials. (You may have a Geiger counter in your classroom to demonstrate this.) We can estimate our annual exposure to radiation and see that it depends upon where we live, the activities in which we engage, and upon the medical x-rays and ct-scans we may undergo. ANS has created an interactive radiation dose chart for your reference.

Getting to the Music

A group of scientists and musicians have been developing a new – and fun –  way to recognize, understand and appreciate the radiation from various materials by working with musical representation of  the gamma radiation emitted from each. Their work is explained and demonstrated on a web site at

What You’ll find

The radioactive orchestra has a variety of resources including videos that provide useful background for you and will help you to interest and inspire your students.

You Can Have Some Fun

In addition, you’ll find reference to an Online Music Composer. You WILL want to experiment with this fun activity. By positioning your cursor on the Chart of the Nuclides, you’ll be able to get a sample of the sounds that developers have associated with the various radiation patterns of various isotopes. You can collect several sound samples and combine them. If you create a musical masterpiece, you can even export your work!

Challenge Your Students

Of course, you’ll want to carefully choose a way to introduce this fun activity to your students and get them interested in this resource.

But, you can offer them some challenges and stimulate their interest in uses of isotopes!

  1. Search for a list of isotopes used in medicine and create music based on that.

One source might be

  1. Search for Isotopes FOUND in a nuclear power plant:

Some of these can be:

235U (Uranium-235), 239Pu (Plutonium-239) and 233U (Uranium-233).

  1. Search for lists of isotopes used in industrial processes, food irradiation, space probes, etc. You could refer to A Day with the Atom to get ideas about topics for which students might gather lists of isotopes.

Give the students the challenge to create music for a future date and then schedule an opportunity for them to show off their creative work. While they are having fun with audio and video stimulation, they can also be building a new interest and appreciation for nuclear science and technology.

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