The Large Hadron Collider is an enormous, $8 billion machine built to detect the existence of certain hypothesized-to-exist particles. But detect how? What if, instead of looking for particles, scientists could listen for them? This is what they'd sound like.

Dr. Lily Asquith is a physicist working on the detection of the Higgs boson, the "God particle" whose unproven existence could help explain the origin of mass in the universe. With the help of a musician and software developer, Richard Dobson, Asquith has been attempting the "sonification" of some LHC data—specifically, the data that researchers are expected to receive if and when the Higgs boson emerges from the LHC.

Dr Asquith and her team have so far generated a number of simulations based on predictions of what might happen during collisions inside the LHC.

The team is only now feeding in real results from real experiments.

"When you are hearing what the sonifications do you really are hearing the data. It's true to the data, and it's telling you something about the data that you couldn't know in any other way," said Archer Endrich, a software engineer working on the project.

The aim is to give physicists at the LHC another way to analyse their data. The sonification team believes that ears are better suited than eyes to pick out the subtle changes that might indicate the detection of a new particle.

This is a very cool idea, beyond the far-out tunes created by sonfiying Higgs boson data. As Asquith writes on her blog,


Sound seems the perfect tool with which to represent the complexity of the data; our ears are superb at locating the source and location of sounds relative to one another, we can hear a vast range of frequencies and distinguish timbres (different instruments) before they have even played a full cycle. We also have an incredible ability to notice slight changes is pitch or tempo over time and to recognise patterns in sound after hearing them just once. Perhaps using our ears could allow us to make full use of the neural networks between them.

And the sound itself? The above, from Asquith's website, LHCSound, is an abridged version of "Higgs Boson Simple"—an "emerging and decaying Higgs boson." Writes Asquith,

This example maps properties of the Higgs jet to properties of sound... A jet is made up of lots of cells containing energy deposits. Each cell has an energy, a distance and an angular distance (dR) associated with it. So each cell can be heard as a separate note in this example. This is quite a long track (about 90 seconds). The sounds reduce in density very much towards the end, with isolated events separated by silences of several seconds.

Here are some more particle sounds—starting with "Higgs Jet Motif," which uses the Higgs data to shape the sound of running water:

Here's the "Higgs Jet Harmonic Motif," which has been reassembled to determine pitch by distance, angular distance, and energy, one after the other:

And finally, this is the "Higgs Jet Energy Profile Crotale," which modifies each note using only the energy of the particle, performed on baby cymbals:

[BBC; LHCSound; pics via AP]