June 23, 2010

Scientists Simulate Sub-Atomic Particle Sounds

Scientists have simulated what is thought to be the sounds made by sub-atomic particles when they are produced at the Large Hadron Collider.

Their goal is to develop a way for physicists at CERN to "listen to the data" and pick out the Higgs particle if and when they finally detect it.

Lily Asquith modeled data from the giant Atlas experiment at the LHC.

She worked with sound engineers to convert data taken during collisions at the LHC.

"If the energy is close to you, you will hear a low pitch and if it's further away you hear a higher pitch," the particle physicist told BBC News.

"If it's lots of energy it will be louder and if it's just a bit of energy it will be quieter."

The LHC is designed to shed light on fundamental questions in physics.

Scientists are hoping that new sub-atomic particles will come out of the LHC experiments, shining light into the nature of the cosmos.

One of the experiments at the LHC is Atlas.  An instrument inside Atlas called the calorimeter is used for measuring energy and is made up of seven concentric layers.

A note represents each layer and their pitch is different according to the amount of energy being produced in that layer.

The process of converting scientific data into sounds is called sonification.

Asquith and her team have generated a number of simulations based on predictions of what might happen during collisions inside the LHC.

The researchers are now feeding in real results from real experiments.

"When you are hearing what the sonifications do you really are hearing the data. It's true to the data, and it's telling you something about the data that you couldn't know in any other way," Archer Endrich, a software engineer working on the project, told BBC.

The purpose is to allow physicists another way to analyze their data.  The sonification team believes that ears are better suited than eyes to help pick out the subtle change that might indicate the detection of a new particle.

However, Richard Dobson, a composer involved with the project, says he is struck at how musical the products of the collisions sound.

"We can hear clear structures in the sound, almost as if they had been composed. They seem to tell a little story all to themselves. They're so dynamic and shifting all the time, it does sound like a lot of the music that you hear in contemporary composition," he told BBC.

Although the project's goal is to give particle physicists a new analysis tool, Endrich believes it may also enable scientists to eavesdrop on harmonious background sound of the Universe.

He said he hoped the particle collisions at CERN would "reveal something new and something important about the nature of the Universe".

Endrich also says that those who have been involved in the project have felt something akin to a religious experience while listening to the sounds.

"You feel closer to the mystery of Nature which I think a lot of scientists do when they get deep into these matters," he said.

"Its so intriguing and there's so much mystery and so much to learn. The deeper you go, the more of a pattern you find and it's fascinating and it's uplifting."


Image Caption: This track is an example of simulated data modelled for the ATLAS detector on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, which will begin taking data in 2008. The Higgs boson is produced in the collision of two protons at 14 TeV and quickly decays into four muons, a type of heavy electron that is not absorbed by the detector. The tracks of the muons are shown in yellow. Credit: CERN


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