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".
Rachel Courtland, an unabashed astronomy aficionado, is a former senior associate editor at Spectrum. She now works in the editorial department at Nature. At Spectrum, she wrote about a variety of engineering efforts, including the quest for energy-producing fusion at the National Ignition Facility and the hunt for dark matter using an ultraquiet radio receiver. In 2014, she received a Neal Award for her feature on shrinking transistors and how the semiconductor industry talks about the challenge.