Science in Music: Explore Emergence

Hear the science in music, from broken symmetry in nature to wave particle duality in quantum physics, explore emergence through music at The Emergent Universe, an online interactive science museum.

Hear the Music

Listen closely to the melody. Its progression provides a metaphor for emergence.

Music of the Quantum

Composed by Jaz Coleman & performed by the Sporcl quintet as part of the Music of the Quantum project.

Additional credits

Music: Jaz Coleman.
Inception and production: Piers Coleman.
Performance images: ILC Shaun Pettigrew.


Violin: Pavel Sporcl; Accordion: Jan Meisl; Bass: Jan Buble; Harp1: Veronica Vachalova; Harp2: Hana Vantuchova.


The Institute for Complex Adaptive Matter (ICAM), the Lounsberry Foundation, and the National Science Foundation under grant DMR 0312495

transformation to Complexity

Listen for sweeping tones that transform the melody from simple to complex. As well as for how the harp conveys an ethereal beauty to these transformations.

Emergent phenomena arise when many simple parts transform unexpectedly into complex and beautiful behaviors.
Such as when molecules combine to create life.


Prof. George Whitesides gives examples of emergence

appearance of new properties

Listen for the appearance of new musical structures as the melody undergoes progressive transitions

Emergence involves the appearance of new properties on a larger scale. Such as when water molecules freeze together and transform the liquid properties of water to the crystalline properties of ice.

breaking symmetry

Listen for transformations that change the degree of musical symmetry.

In physics, symmetry means the same in all directions. Thus, broken symmetry occurs when some direction becomes preferred over others, such as when a magnet placed next to metal filings causes them to line up. Emergence is often accompanied by symmetry breaking. For example, a tornado results when enormous numbers of atmospheric molecules move collectively along a preferred direction – the downward spiral.

particles and waves

Listen to how the interplay of two contrasting instruments, the violin and the accordion, expresses the tension between discreet particles continuous waves.

Tiny objects like electrons and atoms behave very differently from everyday objects; Sometimes they act like particles and sometimes they act like waves. Even such tiny, schizophrenic objects can exhibit emergent behavior when enough of them are brought together. For example, the electrons in a very cold crystal of niobium atoms will spontaneously march together in lockstep, moving through the crystal with no resistance, turning the crystal into a superconductor


Prof. Nandini Trivedi explains superconductors

Understanding Emergence allows us to see the world in a whole new way

What's emergence? When interactions between component parts of a system give rise to unexpected behaviors in the system as a whole.


Music of the Quantum

Music, videos and explanations by scientists:

Emergence, Transformation, New Properties

S. B. Johnson, Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software (Scribner, NY, 2001).

P. Coleman, Frontier at your fingertips, Nature 446, 379 (22 March 2007). A link to this short article is available (2009) on Piers Coleman’s home page:

Broken Symmetry

P. W. Anderson, More is Different, Science 177, 393-396 (1972).

Particles & Waves

A basic, math-free introduction to concepts in quantum mechanics; emphasizes the concept of wave-particle duality:

A lay introduction to many aspects of quantum mechanics: J. Gribbin, In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality (Bantam Books, NY, 1984)

Search Terms

emergence, phase transition, quantum physics, quantum mechanics

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