LHC’s “Cosmic Piano” Plays the Music of the Universe

September 23, 2015 | Sarah Tse

Photo credit: CERN/Youtube

Using tools from the Large Hadron Collider, scientists have designed a machine that translates interstellar radiation in music, effectively capturing the melodies of the stars.

The Large Hadron Collider has helped physicists conduct some truly groundbreaking research, including the 2013 discovery of the Higgs boson as well as more recent discoveries of new particles and states of matter. But in addition to particle physics, the LHC can also contribute to another sphere of human achievement: freeform jazz.

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Arturo Fernandez and Guillermo Tejeda, two scientists from ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment), have used tools provided by the LHC to create a “cosmic piano.” This instrument detects the particles created when cosmic rays (high-energy radiation waves that originate from outside our solar system) interact with molecules in Earth’s surface. A special material within the instrument, called a scintillator, absorbs the energy from these excited particles and translates it into light signals. Finally, the piano relays the light signals in the form of musical notes and synchronized flashes of colored light.

Cosmic pianos have been making music for two years now, with a few models being sold for about $2,500. But they made their live musical debut at the Montreux Jazz Festival in July 2014, when jazz pianist Al Blatter accompanied the musical stylings of cosmic rays with his own improvisations.

Other examples of "sonification," or the conversion of raw data into sound, have used the sun’s magnetic field, cosmic background radiation leftover from the Big Bang, radioactive particles inside a cloud chamber, and radiation captured by NASA’s Lunar Renaissance Orbiter.

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