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Outstanding art installation "HALO" based on ATLAS data

Group photo including Prof Antonella de Santo (centre) and Dr Mark Sutton (2nd from right)

HALO art installation

Dr Mark Sutton and Professor Antonella De Santo from the Sussex team involved in the ATLAS experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, have been collaborating with internationally renowned artist duo Semiconductor (aka Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt), who have used ATLAS data to create an outstanding piece of art called HALO, commissioned by Audemars Piguet for Art Basel 2018. The collaboration between Professor De Santo, Dr Sutton and Semiconductor commenced in 2015, at the time of the artists’ residency at CERN and has continued over the years.

HALO is a large scale, immersive artwork, with a cylindrical structure (inspired by the typical cylindrical structure of collider experiments such as ATLAS) and housing a 360-degree projection of proton-proton collisions collected by the ATLAS experiment. An array of hundreds of vertical wires arranged around the structure plays sound synchronised with the same data. The installation, housed in a large and very dark underground hall, through a combination of sound and images, draws the viewer to the centre of the artwork, where it is possible to “experience” slowed-down particle collisions.

Dr Sutton, who is an expert of the ATLAS trigger (the experiment’s “brain”, making split-second decisions as to which proton-proton collisions must be kept for further analysis) has had a key role in the production of HALO. He was instrumental to Semiconductor gaining access to ATLAS data and, throughout the realisation of the project, provided key expertise for ATLAS data manipulation and interpretation.

ATLAS is one of the two general-purpose detectors taking data at the Large Hadron Collider, the biggest particle physics experiment ever realised, which studies heads-on collisions of proton beams to uncover the deepest mysteries of the universe, and which discovered the Higgs boson in 2012.

In the Large Hadron Collider about one-billion separate proton-proton collisions happen every second. This means that one has to be very selective as to which collision events can be recorded, writing out only about one thousand every second, of which only a handful will be the most interesting (such as Higgs events). This is equivalent to looking for a handful of pink pebbles out of all the gray and brown pebbles on Brighton beach - every second.

Dr Sutton said: “For me, this was a very special opportunity. I have always been very interested in art and for a brief period at the start of my undergraduate degree, I nearly changed to study art, but physics won out in the end! “

Said Professor De Santo: “I always knew that ATLAS data was beautiful. Semiconductor have found a most touching way to give everyone who sees HALO the same sense of beauty that scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider can experience every day.

HALO featured in an article in the Financial Times:

By: Justine Charles
Last updated: Thursday, 14 February 2019