Art meets science: the Quasi-universal Event Display

Virginia Greco

The Little Bang Theory show by Tim Otto Roth represents particle collisions as in event display software, using coloured lasers and real data from CERN experiments (ALICE included).


Science can be an intriguing source of inspiration for art and many artists have already profited from the collaboration with CERN scientists to develop some projects. Tim Otto Roth is one of them and last September the premi?re of his Little Bang Theory show was held in Ditzingen (Germany), on the occasion of the ceremony of the Berthold Leibinger prize for innovative applications of lasers.

Two coloured lasers – representing particle beams - hit from opposite directions and with different angles two convex mirrors hanging at the centre of the room, which is the collision point, and are reflected with different intensities and directions, as particles produced by the smashing of the original beams. A light mist is used to make the laser beams visible.

This representation is much inspired by the event display images used in particle physics to visualize collisions in detectors. General properties as momentum and charge are translated into a colour code, so different type of particles can be distinguished, but of course this representation does not include the effect of the magnetic field normally used in the experiments.

The first idea for this project, which for the artist is a sort of quasi-universal event display (QED) of physics properties of collisions, arose in 2009, when Roth was a resident artist at CERN with the NA61/SHINE experiment. He developed further the concept up to the current performance in which real data from the four main LHC experiments and NA61/SHINE are used. He worked side by side with physicists who helped him to understand the data and make them usable in the project. Thanks to the collaboration of Jeremi Niedziela, Ph.D. student and ALICE event display expert, data from our experiment are also displayed. A video of the show (lights and sound) can be found here.

The visual effect is strengthened by the introduction of sounds generated by sonification of the same data. In this case, the properties of particles produced in a collision are translated into different frequencies and amplitudes of sound. The overall purpose of the show is to make the audience have the feeling of being immersed in collisions, which they can actually “see” and “hear”.

The premi?re of the Little Bang Theory show saw the participation of former CERN General Director Rolf-Dieter Heuer, who discussed about particle physics and art with the artist, while lasers crossed the mist over their head.


Roth is very fascinated by connections between natural science and art, so this is not his first foray on this field. He has actually developed various projects collaborating with scientists of top research institutions around the world, including  -besides CERN- the Max Planck Institute, the Technical University of Dresden, the European Southern Observatory, ESA & NASA, Brookhaven National Laboratory and Fermilab (US) and KEK Tsukuba (JP).

The show received a good reception, so we hope we will be able to see it soon at CERN.

Alice Matters