I wrote this piece for a Wolfram technology blog a while back. It’s a bit Mathematica centric for that reason. The blog got delayed, then the editor left the company, then the new editor blew off the piece and I got tired of waiting, so here it is.
Not so long ago…
In 2012, the Raspberry Pi Foundation released the Raspberry pi, an affordable, credit-card sized computer originally designed to help younger students learn programming. It peels away the black-box of computers and exposes users to the fascinating world of how software controls hardware that control sensors that interact with the user’s surroundings. The computer science community refers to this idea as physical computing. As an Analytical Chemist, I call it a scientific instrument. Since much of my research and teaching deals with scientific instrumentation, the Raspberry Pi has turned out to be an excellent platform for exploring new ways to make measurements.
I could turn this post into a commentary about the importance of doing a thorough literature search, and despite how thorough you think your literature search is, it is not thorough enough. Alternatively, I can make some Star Wars references; let’s go with that.
Soon, my wife and I will buy our first home.My wife and I just bought our first home. I have been looking at videos on how to paint rooms and found myself looking at periodic-table wall-art. I came upon this website which was coincidentally published one year ago today. Until now, I had not seen an RGB blinky-light periodic table besides Mandy, and it appears as if Mandy was coming to life just as apaf1 (send me your real name and I’ll edit, if you wish) was completing his project. What does that mean for Mandy?
I am teaching Mandy to sing (sort of). Here’s Mandy playing along to Carol of the Bells in what may be the worlds “first” Periodic Table spectrum visualizer. Now, before we blow up the Twitter sphere with allegations that Mandy belongs on the Top Ten List of Most Infamous Lip Syncing incidents, I’m not claiming that this is live. Mandy wasn’t designed to do real-time spectrum analysis (she’s a Periodic Table, after all) but I wanted to see if some geeky visualizations would be possible. So, I created my own version of Carol of the Bells (written in Sonic-Pi) and then analyzed the audio file using Mathematica, which has a neat function, SpectrogramArray, that provides easy access to the frequencies in an audio file. I then binned the frequencies into 118 buckets – one for each element on the periodic table, and converted the intensities into colors (blue for high amplitude, red for low amplitude). I probably should have thought a bit more about which elements should display which frequencies, but time was running short so I simply made the heavier elements have the lower frequencies. In any case – enjoy.
The staff over at the Wolfram Community have recognized Mandy – the bright Periodic Table as one of their Staff Picks. The forum post, which can be viewed here, highlights how Mathematica was used in various parts of the project. In the design phase, Mathematica was used to create the layout of the periodic table, which then could be exported to Inkscape/Adobe Illustrator for final processing of an image that could be recognized by the laser cutter. The curated data provided by the Wolfram platform is used to create the trends, and I used some notebook Manipulate commands to visualize the RGB-LED output for (rapid) rapid prototyping. The actual operation of Mandy uses a Python-based speech recognition script that calls on Mathematica to communicate to the Arduino controlling all of the LEDs. (Yes, this is an ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ project.)
About six months ago, I started working on a project I like to call my piece de resistance. It combines a number of maker skills that I’ve learned over the past few years. I call her Mandy, and she’s a laser-cut periodic table that has a bunch of three-color LEDS, an Arduino that controls the individually addressable LEDs, and a Raspberry Pi that stores information about the elements. To make it stand out from being “just another bright periodic table”, I added a voice activation component, so Mandy is able to display different periodic trends at your verbal command!
I’m getting ready to move to a different part of the country, so I do not have time to provide more information about Mandy. In the meanwhile, I created a teaser-trailer for your (OK, my) personal enjoyment.