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CERN's 'Cosmic Piano' uses particle data to make music

Physicists at CERN have created a "cosmic piano" that uses particle data to create live music.

Developed by Arturo Fernandez and Guillermo Tejeda as part of the ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment) project, the instrument -- which has been described as looking like a "fancy staircase" -- uses a detector pad to transform passing particles into musical notes. 

As reported by Gizmodo, the piano makes use of charged particles, created when cosmic rays interact with molecules in the Earth's atmosphere. A plastic scintillator within the piano then turns the particles into optical signals, which are then converted into "R2 D2"-like bleeping notes and synchronised (and jazzy) flashes of light. 

The cosmic piano was first showcased at a CERN Open Day in 2013, and has since gone on to be something of a hit, with several of them already selling for the sizeable sum $2,500 (£1,540). Moreover, the machine made its live musical debut at the Montreux Jazz Festival last year, jamming with noted jazz pianist Al Blatter. 

As CERN physicist Steve Goldfarb jokingly explains in the video, the cosmic piano could become a fixture of the freeform improvisational jazz sessions of the future, given that "the cosmos doesn't really have much of a rhythm".

This isn't the first time that particle physicists and other researchers have experimented with "sonification": the process by which raw data is transmuted into sound. As part of its 60th birthday celebrations in 2014, CERN assembled its very own LHCChamber Music project, in which scientists performed a piece for strings, keys and woodwind, based on data collected by the Large Hadron Collider. 

Nasa has also launched an online streaming broadcast, called CRaTER (Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation), which allows you to listen to data from its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter being constantly turned into audio soundscapes.