Gruebele is part of a growing community of researchers using sound to convey

Protein molecules fold like shape-shifting transformers to carry out vital cellular functions in our body. When things go wrong, misfolded proteins can form plaques in the brain, a process that is thought to be the cause of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.


Gruebele has devised computer simulations to understand protein folding, which occurs primarily in the water inside our cells. But the interactions between a protein and trillions of water molecules are too complex — and happen too fast — for him to see them in his simulations.

So he listens for them instead.

“You have to think of that sound in the same way that you think about a graph as opposed to a painting,” Gruebele said.

“I can close my eyes and tell you, ‘Aha, there’s a protein-to-water hydrogen bond that just formed,” he said as the track played out. “Once I’ve heard it, I can actually go back to the simulation and zoom in on that one specific water molecule and figure out which one it was and where it was making the bond.”

Gruebele is part of a growing community of researchers using sound to convey scientific phenomena. It’s the auditory equivalent of data visualization, and its adherents call it “data sonification.”

“You have to think of that sound in the same way that you think about a graph as opposed to a painting.”

— Martin Gruebele, biochemist

The concept isn’t entirely new. One of the earliest examples of using sound to represent data is the dosimeter, or Geiger counter. This instrument was designed in 1928 to indicate the amount of radioactivity in a given place with clicking sounds. The faster the pace of the clicks, the more dangerous the environment. It’s a no-nonsense way to signal danger in a place that’s literally trying to kill you.

The Geiger counter was a mechanical device. But today, with digital audio, any piece of data can be mapped into sound.

Kyma was developed by Carla Scaletti, a composer and sound engineer based in Urbana-Champaign. Its original purpose was all Hollywood — it was used in three Star Wars movies and the animated flick “Wall-E.” Its user interface allows individual sounds to be wired together like components in an electrical circuit. The result is a versatile tool that can produce endless audio combinations, even a soundtrack of human biology.

Top European Union officials were due to meet Friday in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a show of support for the country as it battles to counter Russia’s invasion and strives to join the EU as well as NATO.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen European Council President Charles Michel and 15 European commissioners traveled to the Ukrainian capital for what they described as a summit meeting.

The last such summit was held in Kyiv in October 2021 — a few months before the war started. The highly symbolic visit is also the first EU political mission of its kind to a country at war.

“There will be no let-up in our resolve,” Michel said in a tweet on his apparent arrival in Kyiv. “We will also support [Ukraine] every step of the way on your journey to the EU.”

The high-level visit came as Ukrainian authorities reported that at least six civilians were killed and 20 others were injured over the previous 24 hours.

Also, 18 apartment buildings, two hospitals and a school were damaged in a Russian attack in the eastern city of Kramatorsk on Thursday, injuring six, Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko told Ukrainian TV. Three people died when a Russian missile hit an apartment building in that city Wednesday.

EU assistance for Ukraine has reached almost 50 billion euros ($55 billion) since the fighting started, according to EU officials.

The EU is providing Ukraine with financial and humanitarian aid, among other things. It also plans to adopt a 10th package of sanctions against Russia in the coming weeks.

The EU has also announced that it is ramping up its military training mission for Ukraine, from an initial target of pushing 15,000 Ukrainian troops through the schooling to up to 30,000 troops. One focus is to train the crews of tanks that Western countries have offered Ukraine.

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