The first Higgs boson data sonifcation!

We are really excited. On Wednesday 4th July 2012, scientists at CERN announced that they had found a Higgs-like particle after analysing results from the Large Hadron Collider. Researchers detected a “bump” in their data corresponding to a particle weighing in at 126 gigaelectronvolts (GeV), consistent with the Higgs Boson, which is believed to give mass to all other particles. This consequently proves the Standard Model, which is the dominant theory of how the universe works at the subatomic level.

We started working immediately on the data, analysing the graph the ATLAS collaboration shown:

ATLAS Higgs Boson data (Credits: ATLAS Collaboration- Copyright CERN)

The data extracted from the picture have been then converted into a melody using the Science Gateway to IGI. This portal allowed us to harness the power of the biggest grid infrastructure in Europe, and runs on the pan-European GÉANT network, which operates at speed of up to 40 Gbps.

Grid computing works by linking together multiple computers in different locations via high speed networks, combining their processing power to deliver faster results when analysing enormous volumes of data.

The sonification algorithm

The Higgs sonification is an alternative representation  of the scientific graph the ATLAS experiment presented on 4th July. It is following the some of the basic principles which guided Pythagoras and many other musician/scientists: harmonies in natural phenomena are related to harmonies in music.

A regular, periodic phenomenon is then represented naturally through sonification, by a regular, periodic melody.

The sonification algorithm we used offers the same qualitative and quantitative information contained in the graph , only translated into notes. We mapped the numbers to the notes using two principles:

  1. the same number is associated to the same note
  2. the melody is “covariant” with the data, i.e. the melody changes following exactly the same profile of the scientific data, exactly as shown in the attached picture.

Let’s say, to fix the ideas, 25  is associated to middle C. Every time the experiment gives us 25, it will be played middle C. This is rule number 1.

Let us show you rule number 2. the covariance, with an example. This simple mapping is something similar to what we used:

25 –> C

26 –> D

27 –> E

28 –> F

29 –> G

It is covariant, since if data moves from 25 to 26, the melody will go from C to D; if the data jumps from 25 to 28, the melody will follow accordingly from C to F. This is a leap three times larger in the data (3 steps from 25 to 28) which is mapped to a three times larger music interval (three music steps or grades from C to F)

A sonification example, showing the rules number 1. and 2. applied here

The final results

Using this procedure on the Higgs boson data we got the following score:

The Higgs boson sonification score

Here you can listen to it played on a Bosendorfer piano:

After the first experiment on the piano, we picked two instruments sharing the score (high pitches on the piano, low notes on the marimba), for purely artistic/rhythmic reasons. This is the final result:

Finally a concert version has been prepared. Enjoy our Higgs boson sonification for piano, marimba, xylophone, flute, double bass and percussion.

Reason for sonifying data

Talking about reason to sonify scientific data, we believe this musical interpretation of the LHC data will help people understand or at least “feel” the complexity and beauty of the finding.
Listening to the melody could, in fact, be useful for many reasons. For example, it would allow a blind researcher to understand exactly where the Higgs boson peak is and how big the evidence is. At the same time, it could give a musician the opportunity to explore the fascinating world of the high-energy physics by playing its wonders.
By studying different sonification algorithms we can find more and more effective ways to support researchers to detect interesting phenomena by listening to them.
Since sound is not directional, i.e. one does need to stare a monitor or stay exactly in front of a screen, sonification can be used on the move, while shopping or travelling.

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