Higgs the musical: the sound of the ‘God particle’

By Archil Kobakhidze, University of Melbourne

The July 4 discovery of a particle that closely resembles the Higgs boson opens a new era in science: it should help us understand some fundamental mysteries, such as how microscopic particles attain their masses, or how gigantic galaxies and stars are formed.

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The supposed importance of the Higgs boson in shaping our universe and, ultimately, our own existence is fully reflected in its popular nickname, the God particle.

But what do the recent results sound like? That’s a question we now have an answer to, thanks to a process called sonification.

It took 48 years from the theoretical prediction of the Higgs boson by British theoretical physicist Peter Higgs, and independently by Robert Brout and Francois Englert, and Gerald Guralnik, C.R. Hagen and Tom Kibble, to its apparent discovery using two major detectors at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – the ATLAS detector and the CMS detector.

Chris Halderman

Largely because of its supposed universal role in generating masses for all the other particles, the Higgs boson is rather hard to detect. Once produced in high energy collisions of protons, it decays very quickly, long before we have a chance to photograph it. Scientists can’t catch the Higgs boson directly, but they can detect some particles the Higgs boson decay into.

Different product particles manifest themselves differently in the detector. By looking at which particles are detected, and tracing them back, one can infer that a Higgs boson was created in the detector.

This is an incredibly complicated process, because each second about a billion collisions happen at the LHC and many particles produced in those collisions behave similarly to the products of the Higgs boson decay.

Initial, raw data collected from the detectors are in the form of electronic signals (streams of ones and zeros). These raw data are analysed and processed using powerful computing software, and are converted step by step into more sensible data, such as the number of detector hits, energy deposited in the detector, and so on. Using this processed data, scientists are then able to identify particles in the detector.

Information collected this way is displayed in the form of various graphs and histograms, such as the one shown below.

Mass distribution for the two-photon channel CERN

The clearly visible bump around 126 gigaelectronvolts (GeV) corresponds, it is believed, to a Higgs boson.

But are there ways to “witness” the supposed God particle other than in boring graphs? Enter sonification – the process of converting scientific data into sounds.

A team of researchers lead by Domenico Vicinanza from DANTE (Delivery of Advanced Network Technology to Europe) sonified the data collected by the ATLAS detector. As a result, the graph shown above has been turned into the sheet music you can see below.

Higgs boson sonification sheet music GÉANT

Semiquavers in the sonification correspond to data points on the graph separated by 5 GeV intervals. As numerical values of data points increase or decrease, the pitch of the notes grows or diminishes accordingly.

The bump corresponding to the God particle is represented by an F (Fa) note which is two octaves above the preceding F (Fa) note, a C (Do) note 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 (Mi) note.

The tune is surprisingly catchy and listenable, as you’ll discover below.

It may be hard to see how sonification would be useful for purely scientific purposes. Strange as it may sound, scientists in their studies are usually more comfortable with formal numbers and “boring” graphs than their musical representations.

But sonification can definitely help the general public feel and accept fundamental discoveries as a part of global knowledge, just as art or music masterpieces are associated with the cultural heritage of civilisations.

Sonification plays a role in public awareness of science. After all, significant discoveries, such as the potential discovery of the God particle, contribute to society by producing fundamental knowledge that ultimately shapes our understanding of the world around us and our place in it.

Further reading:

CERN discovers a Higgs-like particle: let the party (and head-scratching) begin Explainer: the Higgs boson particle

Archil Kobakhidze does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.


FIFA insist doping not a problem in soccer

FIFA’s chief medical officer Jiri Dvorak has insisted that doping is not a significant problem in soccer.

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While athletics has suffered some high-profile positive tests over the last two months and cycling began the year with the news that Lance Armstrong finally owned up to his spurious past, football has largely avoided any negative publicity with regards illicit drug-taking.

There was the Diego Maradona positive test from the 1994 World Cup and several Italian-based players were banned for doping in the early 2000s but football’s record on drugs is relatively good compared to certain other sports.

And according to Dvorak, that’s because there isn’t much of it happening.

“I am confident that there is no systematic doping in football,” he told FIFA’s official website on Friday. “There is no systematic doping culture in football. I am confident of this.

“Of course there are individual cases, for sure. We do more than 30,000 sampling procedures every year and we have between 70 to 90 positive cases, most of them for marijuana and cocaine and we have also anabolic steroids, but these are individual cases.”

FIFA launched biological profiling back in February, similar to the biological passport in cycling.

It was tested at June’s Confederations Cup and will be again at next year’s World Cup.

Dvorak says FIFA will try to get other organisations on board.

“And now we are also in discussion with UEFA and other confederations to start this biological profile in the confederations so all the top players will be registered,” he added.

“And if we have a suspicion then we go into the more intelligent and targeted testing.”


US, Israel condemn Palestinian UN vote

The United States and Israel downplayed Thursday the Palestinians’ new upgraded status at the UN, saying it changed nothing in actual practice and even made peace with the Jewish state a remoter prospect.

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Palestinians rejoiced at the historic albeit largely symbolic vote at the UN General Assembly in New York, firing guns into the air in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, shooting off fireworks and embracing each other with glee.

In between the two ends of the spectrum were major powers like Britain, which said it respected the vote but abstained on the grounds that the Palestinians had not unconditionally agreed to negotiations on a lasting two-state deal with Israel.

Britain pledged support for efforts to reach an elusive peace accord, as did France, which voted for the resolution but called on Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace talks without conditions and as soon as possible.

The Vatican welcomed the 138-9 vote, saying it reflected the majority sentiment of the international community and the Holy See had long encouraged more global involvement to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Peace needs courageous decisions,” it said in a statement.

But top US diplomats warned the Palestinians that they had essentially achieved nothing, while Israel sounded as angry as the Palestinians did joyful.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s speech before the General Assembly ahead of the vote on the status upgrade was “defamatory and venomous.”

“The world watched a defamatory and venomous speech that was full of mendacious propaganda against the IDF (army) and the citizens of Israel,” the statement said.

The American ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said the Palestinians’ joy would be short-lived.

“Today’s grand announcements will soon fade and the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow to find little of their lives has changed, save (that) the prospects of a durable peace have receded,” she said.

“This resolution does not establish that Palestine is a state,” she said, echoing an earlier speech by the ambassador to Israel. “Today’s vote should not be misconstrued by any as constituting eligibility for UN membership.”

Rice said that “only through direct negotiations between the parties can the Palestinians and the Israelis achieve the peace that both deserve.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking in Washington, used exactly the same language to denounce a decision that she said “places further obstacles in the path to peace.”

The United States and Israel were among just nine countries bucking global support for a resolution giving Palestine non-member status at the United Nations.

Speaking prior to the vote, Netanyahu said in Jerusalem: “The decision at the United Nations today won’t change anything on the ground.” He added, “It won’t promote the establishment of a Palestinian state; it will distance it.

“Israel’s hand is always extended in peace, but a Palestinian state will not be established without (a Palestinian) recognition of the State of Israel as the Jewish people’s state,” Netanyahu said.

Among the allies of Israel and the United States was Canada, whose foreign minister John Baird said giving Palestine non-member observer status, a step on the path to full UN membership, “undermines the core” of attempts to broker a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal.

But nothing would spoil the Palestinians’ big day.

The hardline Hamas movement, which had opposed its rival Abbas’s drive for the status change on grounds it was unilateral and not a product of consensus, welcomed the vote as a victory.

And while some in Ramallah recognized it was a half-triumph, they savored it nonetheless.

“I’m happy they declared the state even though it’s only a moral victory. There are a lot of sharks out there, but it feels good,” 39-year-old Rashid al-Kor told AFP.

Ethar al-Asmar, a teacher, was pragmatic about the approval.

“Israel isn’t going anywhere,” she admitted. But, she said, the moment felt historic nonetheless.

“We have been waiting for this for so long. I never thought this day would come.”


US slams CNN use of slain envoy’s diary

The US State Department has accused CNN of ‘distasteful’ reporting after it used the contents of a private diary kept by slain US ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens without the consent of his family.

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Senior State Department aide Philippe Reines told reporters in a statement over the weekend that the television network engaged in “atrocious behavior” in making use of the late envoy’s diary as it reported on events leading up to his death at the hands of militants who stormed the US consulate in Benghazi earlier this month.

Reines said CNN removed the journal from the US mission in Libya after the deadly attack, which also killed three other US diplomatic staff, and then went on to use information obtained from it against the wishes of the diplomat’s family.

Reines said the family told a network executive in a conference call they they did not want the journal used until they had had an opportunity to review its contents.

CNN said it felt the public had a right to know what it had learned from multiple sources about the fears of a terrorist threat before the attack on the consulate.

“We reached out to the family of Ambassador Stevens within hours of retrieving the journal and returned it through a third party, within less than 24 hours from the time we found it. Out of respect to the family, we have not quoted from or shown the journal,” it said.

What CNN is “not owning up to is reading and transcribing Chris’s diary well before bothering to tell the family or anyone else that they took it from the site of the attack,” Reines wrote in a lengthy memo sent to reporters on Sunday.

“When they finally did tell them, they completely ignored the wishes of the family, and ultimately broke their pledge made to them only hours after they witnessed the return to the Unites States of Chris’s remains,” he said.

Reines cited reports by CNN last week claiming it had obtained “exclusive information about the climate that led up” to the storming of the US diplomatic post in Libya.

Specifically, the network said, it had learned from “a source” that Stevens in the months before his death “talked about being worried about what he called the never-ending security threats, specifically in Benghazi,” CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper said in one report last week.

“The source (is) telling us that the ambassador specifically mentioned the rise in Islamic extremism, the growing Al-Qaeda presence in Libya, and said that he was on an Al-Qaeda hit list,” Cooper said.

What CNN did not reveal, Reines said, is that Stevens’ journal was the basis for much of that reporting.

“Whose first instinct is to remove from a crime scene the diary of a man killed along with three other Americans serving our country, read it, transcribe it, email it around your newsroom for others to read, and only when their curiosity is fully satisfied thinks to call the family or notify the authorities?” Reines wrote.

He added that only in subsequent reporting did Cooper reveal that “some of that information was found in a personal journal of Ambassador Stevens in his handwriting.”

“At their request, we returned that journal to them. We reported what we found newsworthy in the ambassador’s writings. Our reporting followed up on what we found newsworthy, as I said, in the ambassador’s writings,” Cooper said in a report on Friday.

Reines said, however, that Stevens’s relatives had specifically requested that CNN not issue any reports based on the journal or even make mention of its existence, and that CNN had reneged on its agreements to abide by the family’s wishes.

CNN issued a statement over the weekend defending its actions.

“The reason CNN ultimately reported Friday on the existence of the journal was because leaks to media organizations incorrectly suggested CNN had not quickly returned the journal, which we did,” the television network wrote.

The network’s position appears not to have mollified officials at State Department, however.

“Given the truth of how this was handled, CNN patting themselves on the back is disgusting,” Reines said.


Zach attack pays off as Johnson hits the front

While the American was making an electric start to the third major championship of the year, world number two Rory McIlroy’s troubles continued as he crashed to an eight-over 79.

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Mark O’Meara was flying a surprise flag for the ‘golden oldies’. The 56-year-old American moved to four-under through 12 holes, level in second place with Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello (67).

Most of the players were finding the treacherous knee-high rough difficult to cope with and scores were generally high on the banks of the Firth of Forth.

The parched and dry links course was also making it tough for the 156-strong field to control the ball on the fairways and the greens.

Johnson fared the best and he waved his putter like a magic wand to birdie the third, sixth and seventh and eagle the long fifth.

The 37-year-old made further inroads on par at the par-four 12th before dropping his only stroke of the day at the 14th.

“Any time you shoot under par in an Open or a major, for that matter, you have to be putting at least somewhat decent and I putted great,” Johnson told reporters as temperatures rose to a balmy 80 degrees in East Lothian.

“This is the Open and you expect difficult conditions but a couple of the pin positions were pretty tough.”

SUNDAY AGONY

Johnson was pipped for the John Deere Classic title in Illinois on Sunday when he was beaten in a playoff by 19-year-old compatriot Jordan Speith.

“I felt great about last week, I’ll be honest with you,” he said. “I don’t want to say I lost the golf tournament but I certainly had ample opportunities to win it.

“The last nine holes in particular I hit great shots, just didn’t make many putts. If anything from last week, what I’ve embraced is the fact I’m playing great and I can put that into play, and I’m certainly confident in what I’m doing.”

O’Meara matched Johnson’s start with a barnstorming run of four birdies in six holes. Another birdie at the ninth took him to the turn in 31 before he faltered with a bogey at the 10th.

At the other end of the leaderboard, McIlroy dropped strokes at the fourth and fifth before getting one back with a birdie at the seventh.

McIlroy then frittered away shot after shot on the back nine, carding double-bogey sixes at the 12th and 15th, and he sported a look of sad resignation when he walked off the green at the end of another disappointing effort.

The Northern Irishman has struggled with his new Nike clubs all year, after deciding to ditch his old Titleist equipment, and is still searching for his first win of 2013 after topping the money lists on both sides of the Atlantic last season.

Phil Mickelson, bidding for back-to-back wins after landing the Scottish Open title in Inverness last week, fired an encouraging 69.

U.S. Open champion Justin Rose slipped to a 75 while title holder Ernie Els could manage only a 74 that included a double-bogey six at the 16th where he needed three strokes to get out of a greenside bunker.

Six-times major winner Nick Faldo, in his first competitive outing since 2010, marked his 56th birthday by returning a 79. Playing partners Tom Watson and Fred Couples fared better with matching 75s.

Late starter Tiger Woods made a poor start, bogeying the first hole after launching a wayward hooked drive into the rough.

The world number one then returned to level-par with a birdie at the fourth.

(Editing by Stephen Wood)