A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

A little light (or rather, massive) Higgs music


The three highest notes, highlighted in red, represent the Higgs-like particle standing out against background data. Image: Domenico Vicinanza

Thanks to a few creative scientists, the recent discovery of a Higgs-like particle is music to more than just particle physicists’ ears.

After CERN researchers announced July 4 that they had found evidence of the Higgs-like particle, three scientists based out of Cambridge and Catania, Italy, turned the data into music. The resulting melody makes the data accessible to a wider audience, they said.

“The Higgs discovery is notoriously difficult to understand, in part because it is notoriously difficult to feel,” said engineer Giuseppe La Rocca of the Italian laboratory INFN Catania. “We believe this musical interpretation of the LHC data will help people to understand, or at least ‘feel,’ the complexity and beauty of the finding,”

Based on data collected by the ATLAS experiment at CERN, the project matched different energy levels with notes and plotted them on a traditional music staff. After 24 notes, the music jumps two octaves to form a peak composed of an F, C and E note. The three notes are the Higgs-like particle.

“Music really triggers something in the general public’s imagination,” said physicist and engineer Domenico Vicinanza of the UK-based organization DANTE. “People understood that there was something special happening in this graph at a special part.”

The rhythm most closely resembles habanera, a Cuban style of dance music, because of the alternation between high- and low-pitched notes. It is available online as a solo piano performance or in another version that repeats the musical sequence three times and adds bass, marimba, percussion and xylophone. You can listen to a complete mix at SoundCloud. No Higgs bassoon version has been released.

La Rocca said that when someone listens to the resulting melody, they really hear the data. As the energy value changes, so does the pitch of the notes. The melody also maintains the periodicity and regularity of the data.

The new particle appears as the excess over the expected background at around 126.5 GeV. Image: ATLAS collaboration

Turning the Higgs-like particle into music was not easy, as it required the processing of the massive amount of data from the Large Hadron Collider. The team, which also included Cambridge engineer Mariapaola Sorrentino, made use of high-speed research networks that are 40,000 times faster than the standard Internet.

For Vicinanza, who is both a physicist and composer, the idea to combine scientific data with music was natural. He hopes music will continue to spread as an option for scientists to interact with data. Vicinanza’s team has also created music from volcanic activity, which made it easier to notice possible eruptions.

“Both science and music are searching for harmonies, searching for regularities, ways to feel an inner peace and harmony in the universe,” Vicinanza said. “There is an inner beauty in the nature, in what’s around us. It’s that inner beauty that I really wanted to convert into music.”

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