Friday, June 27, 2014

Particle Paths in the Quantum World

My challenge combined the nine planets in our solar system, and the world of coincidences.  But the universe and the paths of our planets are now fairly well understood, and predictable. The behaviour of the universe mostly corresponds to our expectations, even when we are constantly discovering new things about it.

But inside the atom, where quantum mechanics apply, everything is unpredictable and coincidental. We have particles that behave as waves, particles that decay and become two other particles; a particle can be here, there, anywhere, sometimes at the same time.  The whole behaviour of particles is probabilistic rather than determined by precise laws. Paths don't follow expectations.

Two beams of subatomic particles, going in opposite directions, are accelerated to almost the speed of light inside the Large Hadron Collider in CERN, in Geneva.  The two beams are allowed to collide in certain controlled occasions, when some particles crash with others; the resulting collisions gives rise to other particles, some of which exist for only a billionth of a second.  These collisions are registered by computers, and the data analysed to see what other particles appear.  That's how the now famous Higgs Boson was discovered.   

I have long been interested in questions of astronomy and cosmology, and more recently have become fascinated by particle physics.  So my piece for the Nine Planets challenge is a textile interpretation of the computer-generated images based on the arrays of numbers registered when particles collide. I based my image on the fact that when photons collide, an electron and a positron are produced.  They have opposing electrical charges - electrons are negative, while positions are positively charged - and within a magnetic environment, their paths split and curve in opposite directions, producing beautiful patterns (as interpreted by computers).

These collisions are very random; of billions of particles which circulate at high speed inside the machine, only a very few actually clash with another.  So actual collisions are very coincidental, and the quantum world very unpredictable.

My piece is 27 by 27, made with fused fine lines representing the curving paths of the positive and negative particles that emerge from the collision.


  1. Visually powerful. Very interesting post, Alicia. Well done!

  2. Exuberant, Energetic and Educational- well done Alicia!

  3. Thank you very much for your support, Diane and Betty!

  4. I like the lines and colors of this piece, they are simple but elegant and full of imagination and power! It's stunning!

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  6. This was a great challenge and I like the direction you went. Didn't you visit the supercollider last year? Your piece is full of energy (pun intended). It looks like fun inside of an atom!