The song of the Higgs boson: How the LHC data sounds as music

First scientists found the likely Higgs boson. Now a team of researchers has turned the data points behind the discovery into a melody, played on the piano, accompanied by a marimba and xylophone
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

The data behind the Higgs boson breakthrough has been turned into a melody.

A team of researchers has taken data created by the ATLAS experiment, which is part of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, and turned it into a musical score. The data underpins CERN scientists' announcement last week that they have almost certainly found the Higgs boson, which confirms our basic model of physics.

Higgs boson music
A team of researchers has turned the data points behind the Higgs boson discovery into a melody. The three high notes circled indicate the boson in question. Image credit: GEANT

"The discovery of the Higgs-like particle is a major step forward in our knowledge of the world around us,"  project co-ordinator Domenico Vicinanza said in a statement from GEANT, the European academic communications network, on Tuesday.

"By using sonification we are able to make this breakthrough easier to understand by the general public, highlighting the depth and breadth of the enormous research efforts by the thousands of scientists around the world involved with the Large Hadron Collider," he added.

Muscial peak

The music has a peak of high notes in the second bar that represents the appearance of the Higgs-like particle at 126 gigaelectronvolts (GeV). The researchers have created two musical versions of the Higgs discovery: a piano solo; and a piece with piano, bass, percussion, marimba and xylophone. (Click here for an MP3 recording.)

The sonification technique works by assigning notes to data points, Vicinanza told ZDNet UK on Wednesday. Intervals in the Higgs data are consistently mapped to intervals in the music.

"The Higgs sonification is an alternative representation of the scientific graph the ATLAS experiment presented on 4 July," Vicinanza said. "It offers the same qualitative and quantitative information contained in the graph, only translated into notes."

Acccording to Discovery News, the piece resembles a habanera, a famous example of which is the aria L'amour est un oiseau rebelle from Bizet's opera Carmen.

"Sonification requires enormous amounts of networking and processing power to produce results," said GEANT, which contributed to the creation of the melody.

Vicinanza works for Dante, which operates GEANT. His collaborators were Mariapaola Sorrentino of the Cambridge-based ASTRA Project, Cambridge, who contributed to the sonification, and Giuseppe La Rocca from INFN Catania, who was responsible for the computing framework.

The search for the Higgs boson has generated massive amounts of information. Researchers have trawled through more than 15 million gigabytes of data per year using the LHC computing grid to make the discovery, according a CERN statement. GEANT, as part of the LHC computing grid, was responsible for delivering some of this data to scientists around the world.

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