The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Actually, That's Not The Sound of The Higgs

When particle collider physics is translated into sound, the result isn't quite so musical

2 min read

Last week, hot on the heels of the announcement that a new Higgs-like particle had been found at the Large Hadron Collider, a team revealed they had "sonified" the Higgs data, creating a few different musical versions ranging in tone from baroque to tropical. 

But despite what the headlines said, the product of this effort isn't really the "sound of the Higgs." The tracks are basically the musical interpretations of this histogram, which shows the end result -- following a staggering amount of processing and analysis -- of the LHC's ATLAS experiment. Domenico Vicinanza, product manager at the research network company Dante, along with two colleagues, translated this data into sound by mapping each data point onto a note. High pitches just correspond to particle energies that were seen more frequently in the experiment. Because the data is binned into even intervals, any rhythm that you hear just comes from assigning different instruments to different pitches, Vicinanza says.

If you'd like to hear something that might give you a better sense of the Higgs itself, or, at the very least, give you a new window on what it's like inside a particle detector, try the video posted below. The audio was released a few years ago by a small group, funded by the UK's Science and Technology Facilities Council, that used simulated and real data from the ATLAS experiment to "sonify" the decay of the Higgs into other particles, as well as the effect of proton-proton collisions on the detector. In the case of the particle's decay, the loudness and pitch of the notes corresponds to real physical quantities: the energy and the distance from the observer.

To me, the result sounds about as musical as the pings a car hood makes when it starts cooling down after a long drive. But in an interview with the BBC in 2010, a composer involved with the project, said he was struck by the result: "it does sound like a lot of the music that you hear in contemporary composition". 




The Conversation (0)
Two men fix metal rods to a gold-foiled satellite component in a warehouse/clean room environment

Technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., work on a mockup of the JWST spacecraft bus—home of the observatory’s power, flight, data, and communications systems.


For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

When the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reveals its first images on 12 July, they will be the by-product of carefully crafted mirrors and scientific instruments. But all of its data-collecting prowess would be moot without the spacecraft’s communications subsystem.

The Webb’s comms aren’t flashy. Rather, the data and communication systems are designed to be incredibly, unquestionably dependable and reliable. And while some aspects of them are relatively new—it’s the first mission to use Ka-band frequencies for such high data rates so far from Earth, for example—above all else, JWST’s comms provide the foundation upon which JWST’s scientific endeavors sit.

Keep Reading ↓Show less