Thursday, 8 April 2010


So in the end, the challenge of doing a piece for The Verb, BBC Radio 3 - a beginners guide to the words of particle physics...

Here is the uncut version...a response to the beauty of physics, mixing real voices with an imaginary voice, and sonic interpretations of particle collisions as collected from one of CERN"s detectors...fact meeting fiction, vision meeting precision, imagination meeting application...the beauty of particle physics reflected in the form of the piece...

With thanks to the wonderful physicists who took part and who's playfulness made the piece when they became and described their favourite particles - John Ellis, Michael Doser, Alison Lister, Christine Sutton, Henri Bacachou, Luis Alvarez Gaume, and big thank you too, to Katharina Voight for her sonic interpretations of particles colliding.

Listen to the BBC Radio 3 version produced by Laura Thomas The Verb on April 9th 2010 at 21.15.

But for the meantime here is the full version for you to imagine...


An introductory lexicon to the words for some of the particles you will find in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, Geneva, beneath the foothills of the Jura mountains in the 27km ring. Featuring the voices of scientists who work there...showing the playfulness and imagination of particle physics...

Vox is the guide, who may or may not be in the is for you to discover. But Vox changes tempi and rhythm as the words themselves deliberately suggest, in the blink of an when words have deliberate rhymes, the pace is fast and connected and rhymic, running into each other, like particles colliding...the alliteration and repetition is deliberate and a way of conveying collisions...Take-it-Make-It-Hold is as your own for example is said at great speed...and thus the piece reflects the sounds of particles as they interact...the very sounds which Katharina Voight has used to interpret the data of particle physiscs...

Vox is a warm, alto voice - playful and very intimate. She wants you to understand and be as captivated as she is by the world of particle physics and the terms which whirl about.

FX - Sounds of Particles collected at the detector ALICE, September 2009


[starting in a hush of intimacy and thought..]

Close your eyes. For one tightly held moment. This moment here. Now. Or there. Back then. A moment ago. A century ago. A day- an-hour-a milli-second ago. No matter. All matter. Any time now... Just take it-Make it-Hold it as your own.

Eyes closed. Pinpricks of light. Picked out. Like an electric tattoo. Neon bright. Necklace tight. Bright-Light-Tight. Falling before your eyes - a curtain of exquisite rain. Beating out time. Deep-earth-down. Muon down. Until we are here. There. Where. In this tunnel. Beneath your feet. Above your head. Side on. Head on. In no place... Some place. No time at all. No matter. It All matters. Words matter. Here. There. In this peculiar, particular, particle universe:

Muon, Smuon, Gravitino, Quark
Proton, Lepton, Neutrino and Squark
[Coming randomly from different parts of stereo image]

VOX : Dimensions slipping and sliding. Watch your step - it is riddled with holes. Your body is a sieve. A billion neutrinos every second pouring through every centimetre of your skin. The mind's footholds - gone. It's Jorge Luis' Borge's library of Babel, in which the books contain all knowledge, but seemingly mean nothing at all. Where, plucking a book off the shelf, means it melts in your hands, words spilling through your fingers to voice their own thoughts:

INSERT Montage of physicists' voices spinning out :
I am a muon...a neutrino... an anti-proton...a gravitino - the best detective...a Gluon

Slepton, neutrino, proton smuon
Electron, Gravitino, squark, gluon
[random spatial stereo placement]

Let's grab that one. That last one word. Gluon. Hold it fast. Like it's name suggests. Catch it as catch can. Before it slips away:

INSERT: John Ellis as a gluon
Hi I am a gluon. My job is to hold nuclear particles my first job is to hold quarks together inside a you could say I am responsible for holding the whole thing together. I am quite a colourful character, because quarks come in many colours, red, blue, yellow
[Fade under as it continues]

[Cuts in] Quarks? Did he say Quarks? Three Quarks for Mr Marks. That line from Finnegans Wake. The babel and babble of books. A subatomic particle with a literary name. Courtesy of James Joyce. And in the world of quarks. There are three too. Just like the good book says.

INSERT: Alison Lister as top quark

I am called Top Quark but I was originally called truth because my friend that's the bottom, used to be called beauty. They used to have strange too. Truth and beauty sounded nice...but the more pragmatic physics named me top and my friend bottom because Strange was always known as middle.

Truth is a much nicer name, top is not bad though because you can imagine top is a very special - sort of top of the pile.


A quark is one of the smallest building blocks around us. The smallest blocks are quarks and leptons - essentially what makes up nucleus - and protons and neutrons are all made up of quarks and gluons which are the sticky stuff which hold them together

You will find me right in the middle of the collisions...I only exist for a short period of wont actually be able to see me but only what I decay into...


Why stop here? Let's meet another. They may be nearly all greek to me - proton, neutron, electron - but here's one with an Italian ending - thanks to the Italian physicist, Enrico Fermi.

INSERT: Christine Sutton as a neutrino

Hello! I am an electron neutrino..The electron neutrino was first discovered in 1956, that was more than 20 years after it had been proposed by a physicist called Wolfgang.Pauli. In fact Pauli was embarrassed about his hypothesis about the neutrino because the neutrino hardly exists at all and it wasn't discovered for some time. You cant' see me.

Electron neutrinos come out all the time, from nuclear reactions in the earth or sun.

In the LHC I'll be zipping out of the collisions which make the protons. Other neutrinos identical to me or some with other names. You know I am here, because occasionally like the invisible man I can ping off something and knock something over, like someone walking along the corridor kicking over a wastepaper basket, without seeing them - so that's a neutrino.

- Sound of a ping. Done as a sting.


Hadron, Neutrino, Meson, Tauon
Electron, Gravitino, Photon, Pion

Proton, neutrino, quark, muon
Electron, gravitino, squark, gluon

Muon, Smuon, Gravitino, Quark
Proton, Lepton, Neutrino, Squark

Words, words everywhere and not a moment to the blink of an eye, a twist of the tongue, names collide:

INSERT Luis Alvarez Gome as gravitino

I am a gravitino. Every time I am produced I can decay if I so desire into a quark or a squark, I always decay into pairs. I am very sociable.

The name was given by Murray Gellman, a great man who gave names. He is the one who invented quarks, and then he imitated Fermi, hence the word gravitino...

If you have nothing better to do, then you invent names, and sometimes stories and theories...[laugh] .You need to be whimsical. Most of the things we are looking at have no names...quarks have colours, tastes and flavours...this is obviously whimsical because they are small, dont last long, and we cant see them...but giving them names you give them pictures...metaphors...


INSERT Alison Lister
Physics is a very down to earth subject which is why when physcists find names, they try and be as creative as possible and one way in which they express their humour or creative sides.

OF Particles colliding...mixed through with a roulette wheel...

Monte Carlo is what we compare the LHC too...casinos...It is a really nice place in the south france...but for us, it is the method that we use to create simulation of the physics which goes on in our detectors...quantum mechanics only predicts a probablily of things and not an absolute outcomes. Monte Carlo probably comes from the fact it has a lots of casinos and that is dominated by probability and so are our simulations techniques.

VOX: [Teasingly] Do you get it now? Is it all making sense? Non sense. All sense? Some sense? All reason and no rhyme. Or all rhyme and no reason. Alice Through the Looking Glass. A real quantum world - if ever I saw one [Irony]:

John Ellis as Higgs Boson
Hi I am the Higgs I have a very weighty role in particle physics...I feel I do a very important job in the world...If I weren't doing my job...If I do my job too well the sun wouldn't shine

If I were a fairy tale character, I would be the cheshire cat...except I would be the cheshire cat with a smile...but eventually I might become a real cat although so far I haven't been discovered...there were previous rounds which looked for me...Fermilab in the united states...but I have been hidden up until now..I really hate being called a god particle...I really wish people didn't call me this.

Look...It's behind you..There in the air. A smile. Lunar wide. A melon grin. A cat's tale/tail ready to be told.


Sound of particles colliding
[Bring up under I am a proton]

[Excited]: We are on the ultimate collision mission.. This millionth of a second dash-dare. A race against time...and light But wait - one nano second. I am all words, me. A proton. The first. The one which does this ring-riding. The super colliding. A million splashes before last Christmas. Millions more happening now. Meeting myself again and again and again...and all these other particles too...again and again and again and again and again and again and again

[REVERB ECHO and fade under and hold then up the other end]:

CHORUS: Muon, Smuon, Gravitino, Quark
Proton, Lepton, Neutrino and Squark

Hadron, Neutrino, Meson, Tauon
Electron, Gravitino, Photon, Pion

Proton, neutrino, quark, muon
Electron, gravitino, squark, gluon

VOX: again and again and again
[Fading up]

[Fear/urgency/assertive for once]

INSERT Michael Doser as anti-proton

I am an anti proton...a designer baby...discovered in the 1960s.

I exist all over the place...half the universe is made of least it was at the beginning...unfortunately it is much lonelier now...and there is no more anti matter in the universe... so I can only be produced in labs but in principle, once I am produced, I exist forever. I am eternal just like protons are.

When I meet my namesake, the proton, we tango around each other in a furious spiral of death..... and then anihilate each other, then once we are both gone, you will know it is me...

10.3 million years later....meetings still matter. They all matter. That meeting made matter. The world we live in. The chair we sit on. The tongue in your head. The flowers in the field. The books we read.

But beyond the pages we turn - there's a place like now. A time like now. All like now. But no now. A positive or negative charge of difference. A time-twin, place-twin, particle-twin, lone-twin. Same difference. Somehow. In this parallel world of super-symmetries.


Proton, anti-proton, muon, smuon,
Neutrino, Sneutrino, Lepton, Slepton

Muon, Smuon, Gravitino, Quark
Lepton, SLepton, SNeutrino, Squark


VOX: NOW....
[Firmly and authoritatively. Pause for 3 an intimate hush]

Close your eyes. For one tightly held moment. This moment here. Now. Or there. Back then. A moment ago. A century ago. A day-an-hour-a milli-second ago. No matter. All matter. Any time now... Just Take-it/Make-it/Hold-it-as-your-own.



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