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Tech by VICE

The Higgs Boson Interpreted as Cuban Dance Music

Data and statistical analysis is a hard thing to explain to a public not accustomed to it and more used to pop culture imaginings of scientists just finding shit in sudden _eureka!_ moments. Based on a cross-section of interactions over the years...

by Michael Byrne
Jul 25 2012, 7:17pm

Data and statistical analysis is a hard thing to explain to a public not accustomed to it and more used to pop culture imaginings of scientists just finding shit in sudden eureka! moments. Based on a cross-section of interactions over the years, “stats” was about the most loathed general education class forced on my more humanties-minded peers, and stats being the tool to uncovering that thing that allows life (and matter in general, of course) to exist in the universe, the Higgs boson, might seem a bit anticlimactic. This, the unexcitingness of processing large amounts of data, makes presenting data in different and interesting ways a pressing concern for science’s more PR-minded brains, and a collection of those brains has devised a (new) way of setting the Higgs discovery to music.

The three member team, based at Cambridge and the Italian laboratory INFN Catania, mapped different energy levels to different notes on a traditional musical staff. What you wind up with is a couple dozen notes, representing particle background noise, and then, suddenly, a spike up two octaves. In that spike, you find three notes, an F, C, and E. This is the Higgs boson, leaping out of piles and piles of data.

It so happens that physicist and engineer Domenico Vicinanza, one member of the musical Higgs team, also happens to be a composer. "Music really triggers something in the general public's imagination," he says in a post today on Fermilab’s Symmetry Breaking blog. "People understood that there was something special happening in this graph at a special part."Both science and music are searching for harmonies, searching for regularities, ways to feel an inner peace and harmony in the universe. 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."

The complete mix is above, featuring both a solo piano version and one featuring bass, marimba, percussion, and xylophone. Personally, I like Richard Dobson’s pre-discovery Aphex Twin-sounding sonification a bit better, but this still gets the point across well enough.

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