Cyclotron was commissioned by Kevin Sedatole and the Michigan State University Wind Symphony. A cyclotron is a type of particle accelerator in which charged particles accelerate outwards from the center along a spiral path, using a static magnetic field and accelerated by a rapidly varying (radio frequency) electric field. Cyclotrons serve many purposes, including to create high-energy beams for nuclear physics experiments and in particle therapy to treat cancer. Nuclear physics research began at Michigan State University in 1958, and the National Superconducting Laboratory (NSCL) is one of the world’s flagship nuclear science research facilities. Hundreds of researchers come to MSU each year to take advantage of the NSCL facilities and explore the inner workings of atoms and their role in the universe.
In this piece I use the cyclotron as a launching point for my creative process. I imagined a fictional and playful sonification of the cyclotron and of what happens to particles when they are smashed together at nearly half the speed of light. These violent nuclear collisions tend to cause strange things to happen, and, among other things, at MSU’s cyclotron, the experimental observations of these collisions have led to the discovery of completely new types of nuclei (isotopes). In fact, the infinitesimally small particles that make up atoms generally behave in bizarre—though not totally unexpected—ways (thanks to quantum physics) when compared to our understanding of the visible world. Among many peculiar subatomic phenomena, light particles called photons can behave both like particles and waves and particles can simultaneously be in two different places at once!
The music develops out of a small collection of motifs and gestures, which are layered and transformed over time to try to portray things like time dilation (accelerated particles experience slower time) through acceleration/deceleration and expansion/contraction, particle versus wave-like motion, cyclical and spiraling motion, the Doppler effect to convey speed and direction, and mechanical, machine-like sounds. It is my hope that, in some small way, this music captures the strange and mysterious beauty of the sub-atomic world and that it honors the work and research of the scientists at MSU and their extraordinary machine.
Additional information on Nuclear Physics at MSU:
Nuclear physics research began at Michigan State University in 1958, and, through a National Science Foundation grant, the first cyclotron at Michigan State University became operational in 1965. In 1981, after years of research and development, scientists at MSU used superconducting technology to create a more powerful and smaller particle accelerator: the superconducting cyclotron. The National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory is also the source of innovations that improve lives. A medical cyclotron built by the laboratory in the 1980s was used to treat cancer patients at Harper University Hospital in Detroit for more than 15 years. More recently, NSCL technology and design were used in a new, higher-powered medical cyclotron built by Varian Medical Systems. This technology will bring more advanced nuclear therapy to cancer patients in several countries. For more information, visit: nscl.msu.edu.
Nuclear science research continues to expand at MSU with the creation of a new Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB), including a new linear particle accelerator which will be operational in 2022. Funded with support from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, MSU, and the State of Michigan, FRIB will provide intense beams of rare isotopes (that is, short-lived nuclei not normally found on Earth), which will enable scientists to make discoveries about the properties of rare isotopes in order to better understand the physics of nuclei, nuclear astrophysics, fundamental interactions, and applications for society. As the next-generation accelerator for conducting rare isotope experiments, FRIB will allow scientists to advance their search for answers to fundamental questions about nuclear structure, the origin of the elements in the cosmos, and the forces that shaped the universe. For more information, visit: frib.msu.edu.