Listen to the Higgs Boson

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Who would have thought that the sound of God would tune on a habanera rhythm?

Researchers say they have "sonified" the data from the Atlas experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland, making it possible to "hear" the newly discovered Higgs Boson-like particle, dubbed the "God particle" by Nobel-prize winning physicist Leon Lederman.

Click here to listen to the Higgs

The result is a melody which resembles the dotted rhythm of the habanera, a Cuban dance which became popular in Spain in the early 19th century.

On Wednesday July 4, scientists at CERN announced that they had found a Higgs-like particle after analyzing results from the Large Hadron Collider. Researchers detected a "bump" in their data corresponding to a particle weighing in at 126 gigaelectronvolts (GeV), consistent with the Higgs Boson, which is believed to give mass to all other particles.

"As soon as the announcement was made, we begun 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.

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Vicinanza led the Higgs sonification project collaborating with Mariapaola Sorrentino of ASTRA Project (Cambridge), who contributed to the sonification process, and Giuseppe La Rocca (INFN Catania), who was in charge of  the computing framework.

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

The researchers mapped intervals between values in the original data set to interval between notes in the melody. The same numerical value was associated to the same note. As the values increased or decreased, the pitch of the notes grew or diminished accordingly.

"In this way any regularity in the scientific data can be naturally mapped to the melody: if the data are periodic (they are marked by a repeated cycle) the sonification will be a music melody which will have the same periodicity and regularity," Vicinanza said.

In the sonification, each semiquaver corresponded to an increase of 5 gigaelectronvolts (GeV). The detection of  the Higgs-like particle around the 126 gigaelectronvolt mass-energy range (GeV), was then expressed by a peak made of three high notes (about 3.5 seconds into the recording).

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The bump corresponding to the new particle is represented by an F note which is two octaves above the preceding F note, a C which is the most acute note in the music (also two octaves above the subsequent C note) representing the peak of the Higgs, and a E note.

"The discovery of the Higgs-like particle is a major step forward in our knowledge of the world around us. By using sonification we are able to make this breakthrough easier to understand by the general public," Vicinanza said.

Amazingly, the sonification produced a habanera-like music.

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"After hearing the piano solo version, I created another version, more in tone with the resulting melody. I added bass, percussion, marimba and xylophone," Vicinanza said.

Particularly useful when dealing with complex, high-dimensional data, sonification requires enormous amounts of networking and processing power to produce results. To create the Higgs melody, the researchers relied on high-speed research networks including the pan-European GÉANT network, which operates at speed of up to 40Gbps (it will become 100Gb/s by early 2013) and the EGI grid computing infrastructure, which works by linking together multiple computers in different locations via high speed networks.

"Neither the discovery of the particle or this sonification process would have been possible without the high speed research networks that connect scientists across the world, enabling them to collaborate, analyze data and share their results," Vicinanza said.

Photo: Score of the sonification. The bump corresponding to the new particle is represented by a F note which is two octaves above the preceding F note, a C which is the most acute note in the music, representing the peak of the Higgs, and a E note. Credit: Domenico Vicinanza