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Home > iSGTW - 19 May 2010 > Link of the Week - The sound of science


Link of the Week: The sound of science — electrons in your left ear, muons in your right

ATLAS — World’s largest musical instrument? Image courtesy CERN

On the iSGTW Nature Networks Forum the other day, reader Lily Asquith mentioned the “LHC Sounds” project, which just started this past January.

Intrigued, we found that there is a whole community of particle physicists, composers, software developers and artists, who are working together to convert raw data from the ATLAS detector into sound. It can be a useful scientific analysis technique . . . and the source of a cool new art form.

The LHC Sounds’ website explains how such ‘sonification’ is done. Essentially, software on ATLAS takes silicon detector hits and energy deposits — or ‘objects’ — and converts them into streams of ones and zeroes, which can then be rendered step-by-step into two or three columns of numbers, known as a “breakpoint file.”

This file can then be used as a kind of musical note list, which can be read by compositional software such as the Composers Desktop Project (CDP).

This technique can be used with simulated data well. To render the sound of the inner detector tracks of a simulated Higgs Boson event, for example, a track is constructed from a number of hits in different layers of the inner detector, with each layer corresponding to a note. Each hit can be seen as a dot, and then a connect-the-dots (tracking) algorithm is run on the hits to make tracks.

These tracks are identified as electron, muon or other, according to the ATLAS offline tracking and reconstruction software. Pitch of the note is determined by the number of hits in the layer, and vibrato is determined by the transverse momentum of the track.

Particles are panned in stereo.

Bottom line: you hear electrons in your left ear, and muons in your right.

But don’t take our word for it.

Instead, listen to a simulated Higgs Boson track for yourself!


—Dan Drollette, iSGTW. For more on converting data into sound, see our previous story on the “Lost Sounds Orchestra,” and our story “Ancient musical instrument comes back to life.”


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