Introduction: The Sound of Data Science

About: The Lesley STEAM Learning Lab is a center designed to research new opportunities for learning through engagement and inquiry-based exploration.

This project expands on computational thinking and data science such as using the U.S. Census' Conducting a Mini-Field Study to explore the nature and importance of qualitative research as a complement to numerical data — specifically how to do ethnographic research to study specific places and groups.

You will compare/contrast demographics information based on U.S. Census data (CSV files are included). Next, you will translate and convert the census data into different forms; and use music visualization and 3D modeling to gain insight and knowledge about the data.

One of the challenges for this project is finding datasets that meet the requirement of the app that creates the MP3 sound files (see Step 2). Another challenge is creating themes or prompts to help extract key information from the data, which demonstrates computational thinking:

Key terms:

data: facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis

variable: a quantity that may contain a set of values

sonification: the use of audio to convey information or understand data

visualization: the representation of an object or data set as a chart or other image

3D modeling: the process of developing mathematical representations of objects in three dimensions


Step 1: Making Sense of the Data

Two datasets or CSV files have been provided for your use:

  • The New York City Census dataset contains a selection of data taken from the US Census Bureau website (ACS DP03 and DP05 tables) such as total population, racial/ethnic demographic information, employment and commuting characteristics, and more.
  • The US Census Demographic dataset expands on the NYC dataset. It includes data from the entire country instead of just New York City.

You can find your state/county in the US Census Demographic dataset, cut and paste the data in a new spreadsheet to be used for the next step.

There are many questions that we could try to answer with the data from both files. How does your city’s demographics compare to the nation? To New York City?

Look closely at the racial/ethnic demographics. What do you notice? What do you wonder?

What other differences can you see in the two datasets? What theme or themes emerge from the analysis?

Step 2: Turn Your Data Into Sounds

Launch the TwoTone web-based app

Click the "Get Started" button

Drag and drop your CSV files into the bottom box

Click on one file in the list

Click the "Select" button

Create your tracks using the variables from your CSV files (listed in "Data Source"); see video demo below:

When you are finished creating your tracks click the "Export" button to create an MP3 (audio) file.

You can do this for both CSV data files to create two MP3 tracks... or just choose one MP3 to work with.

Now, of course you could stop here but the fun is just beginning...

Step 3: Create the MP3 Sound Wave Image: Option 1

You can choose one of two options for converting TwoTone MP3 files to images. The first option is using to turn the files into sound/waveform image that can then be saved and used later.

  • Go through the steps to convert the MP3 into a sound wave image (see images). To see a demonstration click HERE.

An SVG file is needed for getting the image into a CAD program. You can convert your sound wave image into an SVG file using the Online File Converter website.

Find the "Image Converter" box and click the menu to select "Convert to SVG" and click "Go"; drag and drop your sound wave image in the converter box or click the "Choose Files" button and locate the image on your computer.

Click the "Start Conversion" button.

Next, click "Download" if the converted file doesn't do that automatically.

Now, you're ready for Tinkercad (skip the next step).

Step 4: Option 2: Magic Music Visuals

This option is for those who have more time to explore, or want to do more with their MP3 files. You can skip this step if you chose option 1.

Magic Music Visuals is a module-based tool that can help you generate a sound wave image and add additional effects (modules) such as kaleidoscope to the sound waveform to create complex patterns. Note: This tool is more advanced and time consuming to use than option 1, so plan accordingly. Follow these steps:

Download Magic Music Visuals (a video tutorial is available on YouTube)

Add a module for Geometry > Waveform

Add your MP3 as a sound source

Play your MP3 to see the waveform respond, and try adding other effects/modules (see video):

Screen grab the Magic image window.

Invert the image (black to white background) using a program such as Inkscape. For a demonstration click HERE.

Save the Inkscape image as an SVG file.

Step 5: Turn Your SVG File Into a 3D Model

Using a computer-assisted design or CAD program of your choice (ex. Tinkercad), you can import your SVG sound wave file, then to turn it into a 3D model. Once the sound wave file is in the CAD program, you can manipulate it to meet your objectives (ex. extrude it, add shapes or text).

Launch Tinkercad and sign in

Click the Create New Design button

Click "Import" and place your STL file on the Tinkercad work plane

Optional: Export for 3D printing (if you have access to a printer)

Step 6: Extension Activity: Using Magic With Your CAD Model

This is an optional activity, if time allows.

Magic Music Visuals will let you import STL files from CAD programs. You can add/import the file, then add Effects such as the "Array" module that creates copies of its input in the x and/or y dimensions. See the above image as an example.

If you have access to a digital embroidery machine you could stitch the image into fabric to create lace.

You could also use a laser printer to engrave the design into materials such as wood or cardboard.

Step 7: Wrap It Up or Keep Going!

Each dataset you use will generate a different image. You can use more than one dataset/spreadsheet to generate more than one image/model. You could compare/contrast the image/model you made with ones created by your peers, then discuss the differences.

Most datasets with column headers (CSV file format) would work, so think about what other topics you can explore with this project. For example, if you wanted to track the movement of an invasive species like lionfish in Florida you can visit the U.S. Geological Survey's NAS - Nonindigenous Aquatic Species web page and download the data. The images above are from this dataset, specifically the variables of latitude and longitude, and sound-generated images created using Magic (Array module).

This work is made possible by support from STAR, a Biogen Foundation Initiative.The team at Lesley supporting this initiative includes faculty and staff in the Lesley STEAM Learning Lab, Science in Education, the Center for Mathematics Achievement, and other related Lesley University departments and programs.