What Does the Higgs Boson Sound Like? A Cuban Dance Rhythm

By Chelsea Whyte on July 10, 2012 6:01 PM EDT

particle collision
Particle collisions can look messy, but they sound beautiful. (Photo: Creative Commons: Lucas Taylor)

If the Higgs boson made a sound, it would be a Cuban dance rhythm called the 'habanera.'

In the midst of the excitement over the monumental discovery of the mystery particle, scientists at CERN are having a little fun playing with the data that makes up the scientific sighting.

The discovery of a Higgs-like particle was confirmed when groups of researchers working at the Large Hadron Collider - CERN's enormous atom smasher located outside Geneva, Switzerland - saw a 'bump' in their data that corresponded to a particle with a mass of 126 gigaelectronvolts.

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"As soon as the announcement was made, we began working on the sonification of the experimental data," Domenico Vicinanza, product manager at Dante (Delivery of Advanced Network Technology to Europe), Cambridge, UK, told Discovery News.

They took that data set, bump included, and assigned each point a note on the scale, mapping the intervals between numerical values to the intervals between notes. The result is an upbeat syncopated rhythm that makes up the 'sound of the Higgs'. You can listen to it here:

In this way, any regularity in the scientific data can be naturally mapped to the melody," said Vicinanza, reports The Atlantic. So if the data in question are periodic -- that is, marked by a repeated cycle -- then "the sonification will be a music melody which will have the same periodicity and regularity."

And the Higgs stands out, just like a bump in the data, with the notes F,C and E which jump up an octave and stick out of the melody.

"Sonification worked by attaching a musical note to each data. So, when you hear the resulting melody you really are hearing the data," Vicinanza told Discovery News.

The project demanded an enormous amount of processing power and utilized large research networks such as GéANT - a European multi-gigabit computing network which crunches data at speeds up to 40 GigaBits per second, reports Mashable.

"The Higgs sonification is an alternative representation of the energy distribution graph. It offers the same qualitative and quantitative information contained in the graph, only translated into notes," said Giuseppe La Rocca, who contributed to the sonification of the Higgs. "Listening to the melody could allow a blind researcher to understand exactly where the Higgs boson peak is and how big the evidence is. At the same time, it could give a musician the opportunity to explore the fascinating world of the high-energy physics by playing its wonders."

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