Skip to main content

The light show from the LHC

From the core of the world's largest machine, the universe's smallest particles send signals of their subatomic dance to scientists searching for answers. To get a glimpse at the evanescent light show taking place deep inside the Large Hadron Collider, you don't need to be in the CERN control room. The Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen has on display a light sculpture that represents the particle collisions going on inside the ATLAS detector.

The "Colliderscope," consists of 96 diode lamps that project spots of light onto the facade of the Bladgamsvej building at the Niels Bohr Institute. Each spot of light represents an individual particle that interacts with the detector. The spots strike the building like drops of paint hitting canvas. They come in trains, forming quick patterns on the brick, then are gone in a fraction of a second, making way for the next splatter.

The piece was put together by visual artists Christian Skeel and Morten Skriver, in collaboration with physicists Clive Ellegaard and Troels C. Petersen. A press release from the Niels Bohr Institute states that the light display created by the Colliderscope is actually based on data coming from the LHC. From the Institute's press release:

"The Colliderscope...tries to visualize the LHC’s flow of data from the particle collisions in a more immediate and visible way...

By using all of the parameters found in the flow of data and combining them with the random patterns of the particle collisions, the signal from the LHC can be reproduced, like a giant, dynamic light sculpture."

The Colliderscope is receiving data from the Transition Radiation Tracker, TRT, which is part of the ATLAS detector and was designed at the Niels Bohr Institute. The TRT has over 500,000 detector straws that send a signal when a charged particle passes through them.

Petersen, an assistant professor at the Niels Bohr Institute, says it takes a few minutes for data to travel from the ATLAS detector to the Colliderscope, but otherwise the light show is "as live as it can be!" At the inauguration of the Colliderscope on January 8, when the LHC will not be running, the light show will use data from the December run.

The Institute says that the sculpture is meant to symbolize the strong relationship between the Institute and the LHC, as well as to increase public interest in the experiment and science in general.