photo of dry ice instrument created by placement student Leah Edwards

Industry placement student creates instrument with ice

Loughborough University student Leah Edwards recently completed her industrial placement with National Instruments as an Applications Engineer, during which she created a robotic musical instrument with wind chimes and dry ice.

The job involved creating a robotic instrument, using an unusual combination of wind chimes and dry ice. Dry ice is much colder than regular ice and is a solid made purely from carbon dioxide, and at -78.5 degrees it was able to provide Leah with the opportunity to create a fascinating instrument.

Metals such as bronze and copper are particularly good conductors of heat and when they touch something very cold, the heat is able to melt the dry ice which forms into a gas – otherwise known as sublimation. This then enables the chimes to vibrate against the dry ice creating different pitch sounds, rather than having to hit the chimes.

Hearing sound effects from dry ice on the radio is what first inspired Leah to invent the instrument, and with some additional electrical components and the myRIO controller that Leah regularly supported customers with during her placement year, the chime keyboard was complete.

Leah, who studies MEng Mechanical Engineering at Loughborough University, has been able to play music from the Game of Thrones theme tune to Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ with the instrument.

Of the project, Leah said: “It was great being able to combine my love of music with my studies. I really enjoyed being able to get in touch with my creative side and apply my knowledge of engineering and physics to create something really unique.

“I learnt a lot in the process - as a Mechanical Engineer I had studied a bit of electronics and programming before but didn't have much practical experience. I'm really glad that I decided to take a placement year, it has given me a much better idea about what I want to do when I graduate."

You can see a demonstration of the instrument and more information about the project with a number of videos created by Leah on the National Instruments YouTube channel