Well, it seems that Sam is playing it again, and not just in your grandparent's living room, but in some of the hottest clubs around—yes, the vinyl record (a black, round disc that plays recordings on turntables) has made a remarkable comeback, becoming a must-have to the modern-day DJ.

The vinyl record really has stood the test of time, and by time, I mean cassettes, CDs, and of course, MP3s. Even "stars" like Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton (I use the term loosely) insist on DJing with vinyl records.

But why the sudden shift back to the "golden years"? Why are we seeing more and more DJs scratching up the oh-so-primitive vinyl record when MP3s need only a sweet sound system and some editing effects?

The vinyl record is not as primitive as you may think. It turns out that the history of the vinyl record involved some of the world's greatest scientists and thinkers, including Michael Faraday and Thomas Edison. But before we delve into the distant past of the vinyl record, let's look at what exactly vinyl is today.

Did you know? Vinyl was named so from the Latin term vinum, meaning "wine", due to its chemical relationship with ethyl alcohol.

For those of you chemists out there, vinyl is an organic compound, containing the vinyl functional group, -CH=CH2, which is a derivative of ethene, CH2=CH2. Due to the double bond between the two carbons of a vinyl functional group, polymerization (the linkage of smaller molecules, or monomers, to form larger molecules, or polymers) is possible.

Complete polymerization of the vinyl monomers is important—vinyl monomers are toxic, and greatly reduce the performance of the record. If chemistry isn't your thing, allow me to translate: vinyl is a very strong,durable plastic.

Did you know? Unlike other plastics, vinyl can be easily recycled.

So how the heck is music played from a plastic disc? Unbeknownst to the19th century scientist Michael Faraday, his law of induction and magnetism provided the scientific basis for the vinyl record.

Using Faraday's principles, Thomas Edison in 1877 patented the phonograph, a machine that recorded sound onto discs and cylinders using a stylus (needle) that cut grooves into metal foil.

Did you know? In the 1920s, Waldo Semon was hired by the BF Goodrich Company to develop a substance that would bond metal and rubber together—instead, Semon discovered vinyl.

Resulting from the work of these scientists and many others was the 7-inch 45 rpm vinyl disc. Engraved in vinyl records are two sound bearing concentric spiral grooves, one on each side of the disc, running from the outside edge towards the centre.

To play back the recording, the stylus is placed in a groove and the disc is rotated clockwise on a turntable at a constant rotational speed, converting the vibrations running through the stylus into an electric signal and sending this signal through an amplifier to speakers.

"Scratching" or rotating the disc manually back and forth is one of many techniques which real-life DJs like Mark Murphy and Matt Rowan do at Spank! Records. At Spank! and other music-mixing websites, DJing is an art-form—Spank! even offers "courses" on DJing at $329 a pop.

Who would have thought that a 7-inch round piece of plastic could go head-to-head with the music industry's heavy-hitter, the MP3? The vinyl record has been popping up in music videos and clubs alike, and it's here to stay.

Learn More!

Spank Records

Vinyl Records Collector

Vinyl Facts

Wikipedia on Vinyl

Article published April 3, 2007.

Thumbnail Photo Credit: Nick Alvarado

Marisa Azad

Marisa is majoring in molecular genetics and microbiology at Thompson Rivers University and is currently working on a research project that is aimed towards making new antibiotics from scratch. Aside from being a self-confessed chocoholic and science junky, Marisa is a nationally-ranked athlete. She loves to watch action-packed movies and play with bacteria in her lab.


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