The Particle Physics Wind Chime

Earlier this year, physicist Matt Bellis helped Jen Stein, Joshua McVeigh-Schultz and me to put together a Processing data visualization for Jen’s PUCK project. For Matt, getting us up and running on visualizing a very simple data set was relatively trivial, especially compared to the amazing work he’s done with the Particle Physics Wind Chime.

Like particle physicists the world over, Bellis is forced to improvise ways to share his research with the public, using whatever comes to hand. He’s animated bristling spheres of particle tracks in sophisticated vector graphics – complete with cool soundtracks. He’s illustrated fundamental relationships between different particle types with Google Docs. Bellis has developed a whole toolbox of methods to help him explain particle physics. Until recently, however, all the tools in his toolbox were visual.

A trained musician, Bellis came up with the idea of rendering the results of particle collisions as sounds. The process of rendering data into sound is known in general as “sonification.” Bellis wanted to sonify data from BaBar.

“I had the idea of the BaBar detector as an instrument,” Bellis said, but not one played by human hands. It would be played by the particles gusting through it, like wind through a wind chime.“Think of it,” Bellis said.  “The wind itself makes no sound. You hear the wind if it rustles the leaves in a tree. The motion of the wind itself doesn’t necessarily make a sound. The wind has to interact with something to make noise.” In the same way, “When you have these particles that pass through the detector, they send it ringing, resonating in some way.”Thus was born the idea of the Particle Physics Windchime: A computer application that could take particle physics data such as particle type, momentum, distance from a fixed point, and so on, and turn it into sound. (Symmetry Breaking)

Khronos Projector


From Henri Bergson’s The Creative Mind: An Introduction to Metaphysics:

…let us imagine an infinitely small piece of elastic, contracted, if that were possible, to a mathematical point. Let us draw it out gradually in such a way as to bring out of the point a line which will grow progressively longer. Let us fix our attention not on the line as line, but on the action which traces it. Let us consider that this action, in spite of its duration, is indivisible if one supposes that it goes on without stopping; that, if we intercalate a stop in it, we make two actions of it instead of one and that each of these actions will then be the indivisible of which we speak; that it is not the moving act itself which is never indivisible, but the motionless line it lays down beneath it like a track in space. Let us take our mind off the space subtending the movement and concentrate solely on the movement itself, on the act of tension or extension, in short, on pure mobility. This time we shall have a more exact image of our development in duration. (165)

I wonder how Bergson’s meditations on time and free will would have played out had he been able to mess around with the Khronos Projector, a time-spatializing Processing sketch by Alvaro Cassinelli. This online instance is a stripped-down version of Cassinelli’s 2005 installation:

The Khronos projector unties time and space in a pre-recorded movie sequence, opening the door for an infinite number of interactive visualizations. Using the Khronos  projector, event’s causality become relative to the spatial path we decide to walk on the image, allowing for a multiple interpretation of the recorded facts. In this sense, the Khronos projector can be seen as an exploratory interface that transforms a movie sequence into a spatio-temporal sculpture for people to explore at their own pace and will. (Khronos Projector)

Useful Phrases

Useful Phrases (usfl_phrss) uses Markov word/phrase probabilities to generate unique sentences by breaking apart a source text — in this case, the introduction to “Fifteen Thousand Useful Phrases” by Grenville Kleiser. These sentences are then added to a blog.

Click here to view the blog or here to go straight to the “writing” tool.

The application was built with Processing/RiTA and blosxom. The source code can be viewed here.