Found In Musical Translation: Higgs Boson Explained

Finding the Higgs boson was an important discovery. But for all of the publicity the particle has received, how many could explain what it does? Host Scott Simon talks with the researchers who have turned the recently discovered Higgs boson into music.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It's been over a week since scientists announced that they've found the Higgs boson particle. It's an important discovery. They say that although the Higgs boson particle is small - or, come to think of it, perhaps because of it - it holds the universe together. But for all the publicity the particle's received, how many of us could explain what it actually does? Well, here's the announcement from scientists in Switzerland.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We have observed a new boson with a mass of 125.3 + or - .6 GeV at 4.9 standard deviations. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

SIMON: Which didn't quite clear it up for all of us, but there is one man...

DOMENICO VICINAZA: Yeah, so my name is Domenico Vicinaza.

SIMON: ...who heard those words and immediately thought of music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: It's the soundtrack, if you please, of the Higgs boson. Domenico Vicinaza is a particle physicist and a musician. He works at DANTE, a non-profit research organization in the United Kingdom, and his job is to try to see music in science. At the conference in Switzerland, a huge graph displayed the evidence for the Higgs.

VICINAZA: I looked at the graph and I say, oh, I really want to make it something.

SIMON: He saw the line on the graph going from left to right and thought it could translate into musical notes, moving through a song. Points along the line became notes on sheet music. And as you listen, for the most part, they form a playful baseline melody. Now, scientifically, this is just background noise. But then there's a big bump in the line. The song does the same thing.

VICINAZA: You can hear really high pitched notes, an F and C and E.

SIMON: Here it is again.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAPE BEING REWOUND)

SIMON: Listen for the part where the notes jump noticeably higher.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: The high notes are the bump, and that bump is the Higgs boson. If you still can't quite hear the particle, Domenico Vicinaza and his team have added a few more musical instruments, including maracas.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Maracas - the sound of the universe. Mr. Vicinaza says he hopes this music will help people realize some of the same kind of elemental loveliness that a scientist discerns in the Higgs boson.

VICINAZA: That graph for a particle physicist contains a kind of inner beauty or special beauty that can be translated into other fields.

SIMON: And the next one, he says, will be a Higgs boson ringtone for cell phones. Oh, excuse me, the universe is calling.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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