By James Dacey
Researchers at CERN are renowned for their musical side-projects. Notable examples include the album released by scientists at the ATLAS detector in 2010, and the “Large hadron rap“, which currently has almost 8 million hits on YouTube. And of course don’t forget the pop-star-turned-physicist Brian Cox who had the UK chart-topping hit “Things can only get better” in the 1990s with his band D:Ream.
Following in this musical tradition, a duo of Mexican researchers has invented a “Cosmic Piano” inspired by the technologies used at the ALICE particle detector at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The instrument’s inventors Arturo Fernández Téllez and Guillermo Tejeda Muñoz hold positions at CERN and the University of Puebla in Mexico. They hope the device can demonstrate both the science and the art of the work being carried out at particle-physics facilities.
Looking a bit like a fancy staircase and sounding a bit like R2-D2 from the Star Wars films, the device is triggered by charged particles. As Fernández explains in the video above, these charged particles are produced when cosmic rays interact with molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere. The particles generate an optical signal within a plastic scintillator, which converts an electric current into beeping sounds and jazzy light pulses.
Fernández and Tejeda created the device after the CERN management had put out a call for inventions to be showcased at CERN Open Days in 2013. The Cosmic Piano proved a big hit – several of them have since been sold for around US$2500 and the instrument even made an appearance at the 2014 Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.
We recorded this video on a recent visit to Mexico City when carrying out research for a special Physics World report on the physics community in Mexico. You can read that report here, or by downloading the Physics World app to your smartphone or tablet from the App Store or Google Play.