Molecular Music - Natural Melodies for Mind and Body

Created by biochemist Dr. Linda Long, 'Molecular Music' provides a fascinating and innovative link between the seemingly disparate worlds of music and biological science. It involves the generation of music from the structure of three-dimensional biological molecules called proteins. Dr. Long will now develop it as a tool for teaching complex biological structures and to generate music for therapeutic purposes.

Dr. Long, a Research Fellow in Complementary Medicine at Exeter University, works in the fields of homeopathy, herbal medicine and music therapy, evaluating and conducting research into their effectiveness, among other things. She is also a practising musician and composer. She has been working on this technique for the past four years with the help of a small team.

With the aid of computers, it is now possible to use structures, patterns and forms found in nature to generate a new type of music which is completely naturally derived. Proteins are the building blocks of life and Dr. Long has developed a method of converting their molecular structure into musical form. The technique involves translating protein structural data into musical note sequences which accurately and reproducibly depict the protein's structure on many levels. In this way, proteins may be perceived audibly as opposed to visually. Such generated note sequences have considerable analytical and educational potential. Subtle differences between protein structures are often hard to detect when perceived visually as 3-D models, but are much more immediately obvious when they are expressed through music, because humans have a keen ear for musical patterns. The method has the potential to be a highly effective tool for scientific educational purposes, enabling students and researchers to rapidly and easily recognise complex protein structural patterns. What's more, the technique is fun!

Music has been used for thousands of years for healing and has been shown in clinical trials to have beneficial effects in a number of illnesses. It is widely accepted that music has the power to aid relaxation and meditation, and many people enjoy it for that reason. Dr. Long has used proteins from medical plants and the human body to produce multi-dimensional musical compositions that have soothing and uplifting properties. 'Molecular Music' is likely to be used by holistic practitioners to accompany their therapeutic work - for example in massage or reflexology - or may be used to enhance mind-body visualisation techniques and meditation. It may also be used in clinical settings such as hospitals and dentists. Music derived from something as natural as proteins may have therapeutic advantages, though this is not yet established.

NESTA's Innovation and Invention award of 49,990 over two years will enable Dr. Long to develop the use of music as an innovative teaching method and produce two CDs of her music - 'Music of the Body' and 'Music of Immunity' to accompany her existing CD 'Music of the Plants'. The award will also enable her to market the CDs and the teaching technique through a web-site - molecularmusic.com - as well as funding an interactive exhibit to be installed at Explore at-bristol entitled 'Listen to Your Body'. The exhibit will be an innovative fusion of scientific molecular modelling techniques and artistic musical expression, enabling participants to perceive their bodies in a new and stimulating way which is both educational and fun. So far, Dr. Long has funded the work herself and, without NESTA's support, she would have been unable to get her invention into the market place and, especially, to develop its educational potential.

Molecular Music extends the boundaries of science and helps to break down the barriers between the sciences and the arts. Music as a means of communicating complex scientific structures will encourage awareness of the role of art as well as science in our understanding, and promote interdisciplinary thinking to a wide section of the public. The use of sound to describe structures at the molecular level is an innovative form of communication that has exciting potential in analytical research. This intriguing approach may also provide a pathway into science for people who are otherwise uninterested and encourage new audiences for a type of music with which many people are unfamiliar.

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