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Last week, physicists at CERN took a foray into the visual and performance arts by personifying the very particles they research.

Upon entering the warehouse of Point 5, home of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) detector, a crowd of physicists and members of the public donned one of five different colored hats, equipped with a blinking LED light, and took part in a less traditional interpretation of the CMS results – an interactive performance mimicking the exchange of gluons inside a proton.

“There are six colours of hats for the six types of quarks,” says CMS physicist Pete Markowitz, who collaborated on the art installation. “Since we can’t actually exchange gluons, we settled for exchanging photons instead.” Several cameras positioned around the room recorded the movements of the flickering physicists as they socialized around an art display featuring a series of mounted photographs and five bright banners hanging along the walls.

“This performance is meant to recreate the very work that happens below our feet,” says artist Xavier Cortada from Florida International University of Architecture in the US. “These scientists devote their lives and passion to this work. I wanted to literally bring it to life: it’s a celebration.” Cortada was invited by the CMS collaboration to be the inaugural artist of their Art @ CMS project. While the interactive performance will be used as a model for future art projects, the five banners will be a permanent exhibit at Point 5.

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