In May 2015, the first public release was made of Virtual Atom Smasher, an educational game platform that was developed by a partnership between CERN and Citizen Cyberlab. During the Challenge, more than 19 billion particle collisions in the LHC and other CERN accelerators were simulated by volunteers worldwide, collecting a wealth of data and contributing to the creation of a large database of simulations that will help theoretical physicists in running simulations to further study the data collected by the four LHC detectors.
The developers came up with the idea for the Challenge and the interactive game to tackle the computing-intensive and time-consuming task of simulating particle collisions at a very high precision. They concluded that the best solution was to use volunteers, who would contribute the processing power of their computers and tune the parameters of the theoretical models used in simulations. Moreover, the project gives a hands-on experience to thousands of users around the world of the tools used by physicists in their research and offers a sense of how data analysis is performed in HEP studies.
Following the end of the Challenge, the team used the collected data to create Virtual Atom Smasher, a virtual collider that takes a new approach to volunteer computing. Users have to simulate and analyse virtual collisions and ensure that they match the experimental data, correcting the theoretical models if necessary. To accomplish this task, they are provided with various software tools, including technologies previously developed at CERN for the LHC experiments, such as μCERNVM and the CERNVM WebAPI. Emphasis was also put on developing an intuitive interface to simplify the users' interaction with the software and encourage participation in the game.
Virtual Atom Smasher has a threefold purpose: it is an educational game, a portal to CERN, and a contribution platform. While simulating particle collisions, users have the opportunity to learn more about particle physics, quantum mechanics, Monte-Carlo simulations and distributed computing. Moreover, a variety of informative books and videos are available to answer any questions that might arise, while information on physics concepts and scientific software is provided on the game's website and forum. In addition, by playing the game, users become active participants in the CERN community, as they help scientists answer fundamental questions of particle physics and contribute to scientific discoveries. Even people with no prior physics knowledge can play the game and have fun, while they simultaneously learn more about physics and produce scientific output.
A diverse team is behind the creation of Virtual Atom Smasher. Theoretical physicists, artwork designers, and developers collaborated closely. They now aim to spread the word about the new game. You can play the game here and find more information on the history of the Virtual Atom Smasher and the CERN Public Computing Challenge here.