The Muon Project (2010)
The Muon Project is a collaboration aiming to bring leading-edge scientific discoveries to massive mainstream audiences, in this case by creating a large public space where the music and visuals are driven entirely by cosmic rays in realtime. It won the 2010 Academic Year prize for best concept.
The project was a collaboration between Physics Professor Sijbrand de Jong, formerly at CERN, and currently Director of the Institute for Mathematics, Astrophysics and Particle Physics at Radboud University Nijmegen; with production partner Office Broomer and visual artists myself, Dalai Felinto, Mike Pan and Martinsh Upitis.
A large 30m dome (worlds largest portable dome at time of the event) was rigged with custom scintillator sensors developed by the university. Upon collision with a particle, the custom software sends messages via serial port which feeds via UDP to multiple computers running visuals, triggering audio and controlling lights with DMX. While there were DJs playing sets, all visuals, lights and atmospheric audio (sound design by The Haxan Cloak) were entirely driven by the cosmic rays.
Cosmic rays are particles – mainly protons. They originate from a variety of sources and travel across the universe at close to the speed of light. Low energy particles are usually emitted from stars such as our Sun, such as during solar flares. Higher energy particles originate from supernova – the spectacular final explosion of large dying stars. Ultra high energy particles also hit the earth, they are believed to be coming from galaxies with super massive black holes in the center. Originating in other galaxies, these particles travel across the universe at close to the speed of light and when they reach the outer atmosphere they collide with air molecules and form smaller and lighter particles – mainly muons. These muons then carry on travelling at near speed of light and hit the earth, being detected by our sensors.
Interestingly, muons are extremely unstable, with a half-life of only 2.2 microseconds (2.2 x 10^-6). They are known to be created high up in the atmosphere at upto 10Km, and travel many kilometers before hitting the earth and even penetrating deep underground. Travelling at the speed of light, one might expect them to be able to cover a maximum of 660m before they decay (3×10^8 * 2.2×10^-6), yet they are observed to travel many kilometers. This is due to the time dilation / length contraction effects of Special Relativity. At near the speed of light, to an observer on earth, time appears to slow down for the muon by a factor of 1/(sqrt(1-v^2 / c^2)) according to the Lorenz Transformation. In the frame of reference of the muon, it’s life remains unchanged, but the distance it travels appears to shrink drastically (to around 600m).
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