by Panos Charitos. Published: 14 August 2014

If, a few years ago, someone had told Arturo Fernandez Tellez that his research would lead him to autograph signing, he would have laughed. He couldn’t foresee that he would deliver an overwhelming performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival, one of the most prestigious jazz festivals in the world, with his cosmic piano.

Despina Hatzifotiadou, ALICE Outreach Coordinator, set the stage, discussing the physics of Cosmic Rays and introducing the cosmic piano. Jazz pianist Al Blatter performed for 20 minutes with the Cosmic Piano, attracting great interest from the audience and a standing ovation. The performance was part of "The physics of music and the music of physics" event, which was organized by CERN in collaboration with the Montreux Jazz Festival.

"After the show we spent another half an hour signing autographs and discussing with the public. It was a great success!" says Arturo Fernandez Tellez, one of the pioneers of ALICE’s cosmic physics programme.

The Cosmic Piano was invented by Guillermo Tejeda Muñoz and Arturo Fernandez Tellez. It was built from components used for ACORDE, the ALICE detector dedicated to the detection of cosmic rays.

These are energetic particles, mainly protons, that reach the Earth coming from the Sun and other galactic sources and may have been produced billions of years ago. When they hit the Earth’s atmosphere they create showers of particles that quickly decay to muons, electrons and neutrinos, that constantly pass through our bodies.

To capture them, detectors are used, made out of a special material (plastic scintillator) which produce a flash of flight when a charged particle goes through them. This light is then transformed into an electric signal by an avalanche photodiode.

The Cosmic Piano consists of four such plastic scintillator tiles which send their signals to an electronics card; each signal triggers a musical note and a colourful flash of light. The random intervals of the arriving rays combined with Blatter's piano skills made for some fantastic jazz.