Molecular “Music” via Carbon Strings: Exploiting Nanoscale Notes and Chords

Raised of $4,000 Goal
Ended on 11/04/14
Campaign Ended
  • $1,551
  • 39%
  • Finished
    on 11/04/14

About This Project

Carbyne is a chain of carbon atoms that vibrates similar to guitar strings. This vibration can be predicted based on length and tension. Since the tension of a molecular chain is very low, such “strings” can be developed as devices for signaling and detection. Using simulation, this project will determine the accessible vibrational response of carbyne, produce audible notes/tones and combine single chains into systems to form molecular chords.

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What is the context of this research?

The last decade has produced a variety of activities in the measurement of small forces, which has become a demand of nanotechnology. At small scales forces can only be detected indirectly using basic physics principles, which are key to nanoscale designs. At the macroscale, there is a device that can precisely recognize minute changes in tensile force – a guitar.

Anyone who has played a guitar knows that small changes in string tension (winding the tuners) produces a recognizable change in the pitch. This change is due to the change in vibrational frequency, and is related to the length and mass of the guitar string.

We want to shrink the scale of this physics to the monoatomistic scale of carbyne and ask: If molecular strings produce can musical notes, how can we hear them?

What is the significance of this project?

This work can have significant impact on the development of nanoscale devices, for detection or signalling. Even the smallest strain detectors are on the scale of hundreds of nanometers – here, we propose using a system that is only a single atom thick!

Moreover, the string itself can carry an electrical signal, has a tunable bandgap, and is relatively stable/stiff/strong in comparison with other materials. A purely 1D material can act as an efficient molecular "wire" and can be easily integrated into existing micro and nanoscale systems.

We will enable such applications by determining the limit states of carbyne, similar to the design constraints of a typical construction material (e.g., ultimate strength, strain, length, etc.).

What are the goals of the project?

The primary goal is to determine the accessible frequency range of carbyne. This will indicate the potential applications. We will use full atomistic molecular dynamics to explore vibrating carbyne chains under a variety of conditions (e.g., temperature, pressure, solvent, etc.) to determine reliable working conditions.

We can then use the output of our simulations to produce audible tones and “simulated molecular music”. We can further expand the vibrational frequency range by combining carbyne strings and other molecules to produce molecular “chords” (e.g., any harmonic set of three or more notes that is heard as if sounding simultaneously).

Ultimately, we wish to set out the design rules and performance limits for this new “instrument”.


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A graduate student is already working on this material system for other objectives, but funding will run out very soon. The student needs a single semester of funding to complete their degree. We wish to use the results to prepare a long-term proposal.

As computational materials scientists, we cannot produce the carbyne chains for experimentation, which makes such a proposal unattractive for traditional agencies. However, we are confident that once the theoretical concept is established, we can connect with experimental chemists to produce the requisite chains.

We require $4,000 dollars in total for this project, to partially support a single graduate student for a semester of research.

Meet the Team

Steven Cranford
Steven Cranford

Team Bio

Prof. Steve Cranford - self-proclaimed amateur guitar player - attained an undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering (B.Eng., Coop., 2006), from Memorial University, Newfoundland, and a Master’s degree (M.Sci., 2008) from Stanford. He joined the Laboratory of Atomistic and Molecular Mechanics (LAMM) at MIT, pursuing his doctorate (Ph.D., 2012) within the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and affiliated with the Center of Materials Science and Engineering (CMSE). His doctoral research focused on multi-scale molecular dynamics and computational mechanical characterization of novel nanoscale systems. He started as Assistant Professor at Northeastern University in 2012, establishing the Laboratory for Nanotechnology In Civil Engineering (NICE Lab), within the department of Civil Engineering. As experts in structural design, Steve believes civil engineers can contribute to nanotechnology, in both application as well as theoretical tools.

Lab Notes

Nothing posted yet.

Additional Information

Research in progress:

Photo depicts Prof. Cranford exploring the relationship between string tension and vibration frequency on a Fender Telecaster.

Project Backers

  • 14Backers
  • 39%Funded
  • $1,551Total Donations
  • $110.79Average Donation
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