The art of science and the science of art.

Physics Hasn’t Looked This Hot Since The Big Bang


The ATLAS detector at CERN is overwhelming to mere mortals like myself. It's one of four detectors along the Large Hadron Collider designed to detect the most fundamental particles in our universe. It sits in a cave 92 meters below ground, is over 45 meters long and weighs a mere 7000 metric tons (that's equivalent to 100 empty Boeing 747s). The 3200 terabytes of data collected there each year have the potential to answer some of the fundamental questions about what makes up the universe. They're attempting to create tiny black holes, for chuck's sake! I love it. It's insanity. And just when I thought I couldn't possibly have more warm fuzzy feelings for a 7000-tonne hunk of steel than I already harbor, I saw the mural on the outside of the building that houses it. Have you seen it? It's beautiful:

Mural adorning the ATLAS detector

Mural by Josef Kristofoletti adorning the ATLAS detector at CERN

Mural adorning the ATLAS detector

Detail of mural by Josef Kristofoletti adorning the ATLAS detector at CERN

I contacted the artist, Josef Kristofoletti, to get a bit more information on the making of the mural.

KM: How did you come across this opportunity?

JK: I was contacted by the communications department at the ATLAS Experiment because of a previous mural piece I made based on the experiment and that's how the conversation started.

KM: When was it completed, how long did it take, etc?

JK: It was completed in 2011. There were many types of unrealistic constraints on the project because of the nature and complexity of working at the largest nuclear research facility in the world. So, it shouldn't have taken so long but it was done over several months that were drawn out over a two year period.

Mural adorning the ATLAS detector

Detail of mural by Josef Kristofoletti adorning the ATLAS detector at CERN

KM: What kind of interaction did you have with the scientists working there while coming up with the concept/design?

JK: I became pretty close with a few of the physicists, and was fortunate to make friends with a few of them that I still stay in touch with. It was amazing to see how dedicated so many of them were, and some that had worked for decades for the moment of truth when these behemoth detectors would switch on and give us data that would hopefully answer some of the most fundamental questions about matter. I got to spend some time in the famous cafeteria where all the discussions happen over lunch and coffee. One day the physicist I was with told me, "look over there, at that table sit seven people who have won a Nobel Prize."

KM: Did you base your mural off plans you'd studied for the real detector?

JK: Yes, I did, however I was not trying to make a large illustration. I used the schematics of the real detector to make an image that was an abstraction using geometry and color that would make a kind of energetic portrait of the thing.

ATLAS detector w event

ATLAS detector with event. Photo credit: ATLAS Experiment © 2013 CERN

Detail of Kristofoletti mural at CERN

Detail of Kristofoletti mural at CERN inspired by the ATLAS designs

KM: Any good stories you have from this project?

JK: I loved getting to know this community of people and seeing them working in shifts around the clock. One of the times I was there the experiment had to be shut down because apparently a bird had dropped a baguette into a vent somewhere. There were a lot of nerves on end, you know, this thing that took thousands of the brightest people to build over the course of decades was shut down by the bird with a baguette. I still am not sure if that is what really happened but that was what they officially printed in the media.



Josef Kristofoletti portfolio

Kristofoletti on Twitter

Kristofoletti on Tumblr

Kristofoletti on FB

ATLAS facts

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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