The sound of science

Also at the Guardian.

For some reason it has taken me about 3000 years to get around to writing this post. Seeing Jon last week at CERN has finally collapsed me into the right state to do so.

Paddington station has pink and yellow lines taped to the floor to indicate the way to the Hammersmith & city and circle lines. This fills me with joy because it is so useful and simple. At CERN there is some black tape on the floor in building 500 which is labelled “SPS”. I think it indicates where the Super Proton Synchrotron is positioned, deep under the building. It’s exciting, but perhaps lacks any real use.

I think I’m scared that LHCsound may still be at a similar stage. My hopes for the project are limitless, but as of yet we are perhaps a bit too vague and out of focus for me to be really happy to talk about it in a scientific context.


Sonification means making informative sounds. Police sirens and fire alarms are the most basic form of this; they are a very general warning that something bad is happening and you should get out of the way. Heart monitors used in hospitals give you a little bit more information- they warn you if the heart stops beating and they also tell you how fast it is going. We naturally associate high-pitched sounds with fast-moving objects and loud noises with danger, and we have an extraordinary (in my opinion, uncanny) ability to agree on what sounds “good”.


I want to use my ears to help me understand the data being collected by the ATLAS detector. There are an infinite number of ways this could be done- do we map different types of particle to different instruments? Pitch to energy? Should calorimeter noise only be sent to my left ear? What information can we convey using only a French horn? I still don’t know, but I’m really enjoying thinking about it and in the mean time have been totally blown away by The Creative Ones getting their rock on with data.


About lilyasquith

I am a particle physicist working on sonification of the data output from the ATLAS detector at CERN. The project I'm working on is called LHCsound and is funded by the STFC. It is based at University College London where I have just finished my PhD on the search prospects for a low mass standard model Higgs Boson. I have now moved to Chicago to start an ATLAS postdoc with Argonne National Laboratory.
This entry was posted in Particle Physics, Physics, Science and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.