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ICAT Playdate — Playing Covid Proteins

April 21, 2023

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With a SEAD grant from the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology, composer Charles Nichols is collaborating with molecular biologist Deborah Good and graduate student Shannon Mauro to sonify the spike proteins of COVID variants in a piece for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and computer and another for symphony orchestra.  He started by converting the skeletal formula of the side chains of twenty amino acids, that link to form the proteins, into musical motives, mapping their chemical symbols to musical notes, employing the cryptograms that Bach, Schumann, and Ravel used to translate names into pitches.  The higher the element appears on the periodic table, the more duration the rhythm sustains and the stronger the articulation stresses the corresponding note.  Working across the ball and stick model of each amino acid, if a side chain branches, the single melodic line diverges into two instruments and the pitch transposes up and down.  To make the sequence more musically interesting, the folding behavior of the amino acid, whether it causes the protein to helix, coil, or sheet, determines a pitch transposition applied to the musical motives.  These mappings are just the beginning of exploring COVID genome data sonification.


  • Charles Nichols
  • Debby Good


  • April 21, 2023


  • 8:30am EDT
     Networking & Donuts at Community Assembly, Creativity and Innovation District LLC
  • 9am EDT
     Presentation begins in the Community Assembly and 360 Online

Virginia Tech faculty can receive Professional Development Network (PDN) credit for attending

  1. Register at 
  2. Check in with Phyllis Newbill during the event.

Location: Community Assembly, Creativity and Innovation District LLC