Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Sound of God, or song of God ... I think neither

Sounds set to be made by the subatomic particle at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) have been simulated by scientists aiming to make the £6bn experiment more accessible.

By Alastair Jamieson
Published: 7:47AM BST 23 Jun 2010

The LHC Sound project aims to allow physicists at Cern in Geneva to ‘listen’ to the data in order to more easily identify the crucial ‘Higgs boson’ particle.

Finding the Higgs boson – also known as the God particle – is the primary aim of the LHC experiment because it will provide an insight into the nature of all matter.

It is hoped the subatomic particle will emerge from the 27km circular tunnel under the Swiss-French border where beams of proton particles are being smashed together.

LHC Sound, a collaboration of particle physicists, musicians and artists in London, has converted data expected from collisions into sounds in a process called sonification.

The data was provided by the LHC's Atlas experiment which includes a calorimeter measuring the energy from collisions. The note and pitch of the sound varies with the amount of energy recorded.

LHC Sound is planning live performances of the data during the summer but early simulations of the particles can be heard here.

Dr Lily Asquith, one of the team, explained in a recent blog entry:

“Sound seems the perfect tool with which to represent the complexity of the data; our ears are superb at locating the source and location of sounds relative to one another, we can hear a vast range of frequencies and distinguish timbres (different instruments) before they have even played a full cycle.

“We also have an incredible ability to notice slight changes is pitch or tempo over time and to recognise patterns in sound after hearing them just once.

“A simple example of sonification is the car parking sensor that informs you of the space behind you via a beeping sound. The distance between you and the car behind you is mapped to the period of the sound, so that small distances produce a series of beeps that are very close together in time.”

LHC Sound was funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

In a recent Q&A with the New Scientist blog, CultureLab, Dr Asquith explained the origins of the project.

"I was sitting in on a rehearsal with some musician friends in an improvisational electronic/brass band called WORM under a railway arch in Brixton," she said. "I was talking about particle physics to my long-suffering friend Eddie Real, a percussionist.

"I was actually doing impersonations of different particles and trying to get him to develop them on his electronic drum kit. Another band member, Ed, got very excited and asked if it would be possible to do this properly – extract sounds directly from the data.

"We asked the Science and Technology Facilities Council to fund a public engagement project to do just that, and they agreed."

On its website, the project states: "We want everyone to be able to share in the wonder and excitement of the greatest experiment ever built.

"We feel passionately that everyone is capable of appreciating what is happening at CERN and that it is the responsibility of those of us already `in the know' to find new and better ways of sharing the awe-inspiring magnificence of it all."

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