Lily Asquith uses Large Hadron Collider to create sound

Scientists at the LHC are converting data from both real and simulated particle collisions into sound. Hear a proton collision played on marimba.

The Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, near Geneva, Switzerland, is the world’s largest particle accelerator. It’s used to smash together elementary particles – the fundamental building blocks of our world and universe. Now scientists at the LHC are converting data from both real and simulated particle collisions into sound. When protons collide at just under the speed of light, they’re transformed into a spray of energy and new particles. Data about the speed and distance from the collision where these particles hit the detector’s walls is then converted into sound. Dr. Lily Asquith, one of the originators of the LHC sound project, explained.

We may take a particle and if it’s moving very, very quickly we would associate that with a higher pitched sound. A slower or heavier particle might have a lower sound.

Asquith said the sound clips are free to the public and encourages their use in artistic projects.

Anything creative that comes out of it is good because it’s making people who wouldn’t normally be interested in physics open their eyes to the fact that this could be something that provides them with material or inspiration. Everyone should be able to enjoy the Large Hadron Collider in any way they’d like to. For a start, all members of member states, which is all taxpayers in the US and the UK, are paying for the Large Hadron Collider. Therefore they own it.

Musicians, in particular, are making use of the growing sound library associated with these experiments. Asquith said:

People want to do creative things with this stuff because it is a creative project at this stage. It could be a lot more, it could be perhaps a science project too, but at the moment it’s certainly something that musicians have latched onto more than any other group. One of the things that’s come out of our multiple conversations with myself [and with] musicians is how many analogies there are between music and maths, or particle physics. It’s all about patterns.

Though still primarily a creative venture, LHCsound also has the potential to practically store and analyze data.

The idea to use this as an analysis technique is something that is very much in its infancy – it hasn’t been explored at all and it’s just beginning. We don’t use our ears, really, in analysis that much, but we should, I think. It’s something powerful that we have that we’re ignoring.

That’s the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, sound project – in which scientists are converting data from both real and simulated particle collisions into sound.


LHCsound blog

LHC sound library

Emily Howard