In the middle of Nov, 2010, I participated in Science Hack Day SF. The idea was to get some scientists, coders, web designers and artists together in a room for a weekend and see what they could hack up. David Harris, who I know from his time with SLAC Communication and Symmetry Magazine was one of the organizers and invited me to bring an idea. I’d been thinking about sonfication of data in general and BaBar data (Monte Carlo) in particular, and he had been considering much the same.
At the Hack Day, we presented our concept, got some volunteers to contribute code, ideas and design and by the end of the weekend we had a working demo! The idea was to allow users to take properties of the particles that we observe in our detector (energy, distance from the interaction region, type of detector it is interacting with, etc.) and map that onto sonic characteristics (volume, timbre (instrument), pitch, duration, etc.). In this way, the user can explore the data themselves and find mappings which either make sense to him or her, or are simply more aesthetically pleasing.
Viewpoints imaging of the final state particles used in the sonfication.
In our presentation, we explained what we had done and then played samples of Monte Carlo samples of events and events. We mapped the energy of each particle onto the volume for that particular “note” and used the distance the particle flew from the interaction region (center of the detector) to represent the pitch. For those of you who don’t work on e + e − colliders, we run the machine so that each collision has the same total energy as any other collision. So the total energy of the final state particles is the same for all events. We may not measure every particle that comes out, but to first order they have the same total energy. But the events result in more particles in the detector when they decay compared to the particles produced by the τ + τ − decays. So one of the collisions had more particles (notes), but you could hear that the volume was quieter on average! We were “hearing” conservation of energy! And the audience guessed it and could explain it before I did!
People really liked our project and we wound up winning the Best Use of Data award and the People’s Choice award! You can see a picture of our winning crew here and our presentation itself here. For more pictures of the event, check out the scihack tag on Flickr.
One of the hackers in our group, Derek Gathright, is hosting our mock up of the website. We had to run the presentation off of one of our laptops. It’s non-trivial to get browsers to generate sound, so we’re still working on getting the website fully functional.
In addition to our coding/design group and all the other hackers, there were some science journalists at Science Hack Day. One of them, Radio Kate was interviewing folks and spoke with me late Saturday evening not long after we had just gotten our beta version swinging. I was a little groggy and very excited, so I’m not sure how coherent I was, but the story made it to to the BBC Science in Action podcast. You can hear me and our particle wind chime on the story if you fast forward to the 20:50 mark for the Science Hack Day story.