It’s funny how life presents unusual opportunities that can sometimes lead us down a path that becomes our life’s work, yet we never had an inkling about it previously. That’s what happened to Mark Ballora. During the first year of his PhD, he was asked to turn heart rate data into audio, and he’s been turning data into sounds ever since. Mark, who grew up playing piano and was heavily into music, is now an expert at Penn State University in what’s known as “sonification,” which is becoming a new way to explore large data sets.
For the last 20 years, Mark has gone on to sonify the solar wind, sunquakes, the Earth’s electromagnetic resonances, and soon the data about oxygen and temperature in environmentally sensitive areas of the ocean.
While sonification is not a general practice used by all scientists yet, it’s gaining more attention because of the results. For instance, astrophysicist Wanda Diaz Merced at the South African Astronomical Observatory lost her sight, but was able to make new discoveries from sonification of the data she received that sighted scientists couldn’t perceive.
Take a listen to the sound of the rotating Crab Pulsar neutron star (a collapsed dense core of a large star composed almost entirely of neutrons). Also, check out an interview with Mark.