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 Simulation Software at CERN 

What is CERN?

CERN stands for the European Council for Nuclear Research.  Their goal is to uncover what the universe is made of, and how it works.  This article is going to be a light dive into what software they use to visualize the universe. As well as where you could be inspired by it as a 3D artist.

CERN was established in 1954, and is aimed at being a place for international collaboration in the field of physics. Their main location is in Meyrin, Switzerland. They have several particle accelerators at their facilities, and develop new technology for the entire world. 

So Let's get started. Here is some brief history on CERN.

In December 1951, UNESCO held a meeting to establish a council to research nuclear technology. This council would eventually become known as the CERN convention. In 1953, this convention was conclusively drafted by 12 people, and listed the ways members would help fund CERNs budget. As well as confirming how the project should be open access. Since 1951, our scientific understanding has grown and we now know that there are particles that are smaller than the nucleus. As well as a whole section of particles that are classified under quantum physics.  So the main laboratory at CERN is more commonly  known as the: European Laboratory for Particle Physics.

In the 1960s, scientists at CERN mainly centered their focus around finding the causes behind two universal forces. The weak force and the electromagnetic force. After coming up with some ideas to test, they began the first experimental tests for these forces in the 1970s.  However, it wasn't until the 1980s, that they were able to determine that the weak force was caused by W and Z particles. This discovery would lead two scientists at CERN to win the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1984. 

In the 1990s, more discoveries would come to light regarding the causes for electromagnetic force. Experiments at CERN during this time would perform tests on The Electro-Weak Theory.  With varying results. Then in the 2010s, the research switched over to new particle discoveries, and experiments.  Out of these experiments, the discovery of the Higgs Boson would happen. As well as other realizations about quark matter.

These achievements have helped produce several new technologies for the medical industry.  In the 1980s, CERN started producing crystals that are now used in PET scanners.  They have also helped develop stronger MRI techniques..

Particle Science at CERN

So before we dive into the software CERN is using, we need to have a level of understanding of the science they research. So here is a brief overview of the science CERN and The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) look into. As well as better dive into some forces we've mentioned previously.

The Standard Model.

-This model contains the fundamental particles that fuel the universe. It exhibits their theory and interaction on a basic level, and how they should work in the universe. It also predicts the existence of future particles.

Electromagnetic Force

- This is one of the four fundamental forces of the universe. This force acts between all charged particles of the universe. Since every charged particle emits an electric field, they can also contain magnetic forces as well.


- These are subatomic particles made up of two or more quarks. They are held together by The Electromagnetic Force.


Quark Matter and The Quark Model

- Quark matter is also known as QCD (Quantum Chromodynamic) matter. It is a hypothetical phase of matter, and describes the interaction quarks, hadrons, gluons, and other theoretical quarks have on a subatomic level.

- The Quark Model is a model that describes the classification of Hadrons based on their number of quarks. As well as the type of quarks that they contain.

The Higgs Boson/The Higgs Field

- The Higgs Field is an energy field that is thought to exist in every region of the universe. This energy is thought to be caused by The Higgs Boson. 

- The Higgs Boson is an elementary particle in the universe. It is highly unstable and will decay into other particles. It was first predicted in 1964.

Electro-Weak Force

- Electroweak theory, also known as electroweak interaction, and describes how electromagnetism and the weak interaction can operate with each other. At the same time, it also describes what results are caused by these two fundamental forces. 

Quantum Chromodynamics

- This field of study is a bundle of a few of the other concepts we have mentioned above. It studies the interaction between quarks and gluons. It also studies particles that make up hadrons. Such as protons and neutrons. So it also dives into the study of quark matter a lot. 

Software at CERN

At CERN, there is a lot of software they use to process their data. As well as a few others they use to visualize their discoveries. Let's take a look. Let's start with the software they use to detect specific particles.

After scientists at CERN run a test at the LHC, they need to sort through all the data collected from the energy burst they just created. Since most of their collision data is unusable for specific projects, they needed a software that could sort through and identify important patterns. This is where the ATLAS Project at the LHC stepped in, and created the Trigger and Data Acquisition System (TDAQ) software. This software captures data in real-time and processes particle events inside the collider. As of 2020, this software is now open source and available for other scientists at research facilities to use. 

TDAQ is also based around a previous data collecting software CERN used in the past. This software is called Athena, and it is also open source as well. It was also CERN's first open source software project. It contains over 5 million lines of code, and is also programmed for reconstructing collision events in accelerators for further analysis.

CERN is so committed to open source software and development, they have created their own CERN Open Data Portal. This portal is for anyone in the general public to discover and read through CERN's findings. There is over two petabytes of information to explore. 

They also have a focus in developing AI for high-energy particle physics. They continuously post public data for researchers to develop into algorithms that can process information faster. Experiments from the CMS are 100% open source, and it is one of the biggest producers of raw data for AI projects at the facility. 

CERN has also funded and developed other software projects like Zenodo. This site was made in collaboration with the European Commission to create a free-open database for storing software projects, scientific data, and future data storage. They have also partnered up to create projects like INSPIRE (High Energy Physics information system) and Invento for data and physics analysis. 

(There is also another cool site CERN has funded and that is SCOAP3. This is another free science database, and contains over three thousand libraries of information. You can check it out HERE.)

Outside of the lab, CERN also funds other open source projects that can benefit everyone in the computer graphics and physics field. Over the years they have helped fund a software called: KiCad. This is an open source software that allows anyone to create and print a custom circuit board. This software is so useful it allows for scientists and designers to share their hardware designs and ideas all over the world.

Outcomes, Project Development, and More

CERN has made some awesome discoveries over the years, here are some highlights on their achievements. 


1964: James Cronin and Val Fitch discover the first evidence that CP-symmetry can be broken.

1971: Two beams of protons collide for the first time in a particle accelerator.

1973: Neutral currents in the Gargamelle bubble chamber are discovered.

1979: The three scientists (Sheldon Glashow, Abdus Salam and Steven Weinberg) are awarded the Nobel Prize for proposing the electroweak theory.
1983: W and Z bosons are confirmed to be real. 

1984:  Two CERN researchers; Carlo Rubbia and Simon van der Meer win a Nobel Prize for their discovery of the W and Z bosons.
1989: The number of light neutrino families at the Large Electron–Positron Collider are established.
1995: The first successful attempt at creating antihydrogen atoms is made. 

1992: A CERN researcher named Georges Charpak is awarded a Nobel prize for his work in developing particle accelerators.
1999: Direct CP violation is observed in the NA48 experiment.

2003: Exotic particle, X(3872) is discovered. It confuses scientists as it's mass and behavior doesn't match any other particle.
2010: 38 atoms of antihydrogen are confirmed and cataloged.
2011: Antihydrogen is created and maintained for over 15 minutes.
2012: A particle that exhibits the same characteristics of The Higgs boson is discovered.

2018: The first observations of The Higgs Boson breaking down into quarks is made.

2020: The Tetra-quark is observed for the first time. This adds a new particle in several equations.

2021: This year marks 50 years since the creation of the first Hadron Collider.

In total, CERN has discovered over 59 new hadron particles over 60 years years of constant experiments. That's almost one new particle discovery every year! Most of these discoveries are made at CERN's LHCb section of the facility, which studies heavy quark particles.

One of CERN's largest experiments is The Atlas Collaboration. This is one of the four biggest projects at the LHC, and is built around testing and predicting the outcomes of The Standard Model of physics. It was first founded in 1992 at the start of the LHC project.  However, it wouldn't be named The ATLAS Project till October of that same year. They have provided countless data and infrastructure for scientists at the LHC, and are studying The Higgs Boson. Their ATLAS Detector is also the largest detector ever constructed for a particle collider which sits 100 meters below the ground.

Another cool experiment that CERN is providing to the public is The CMS ( Compact Muon Solenoid) experiment. This experiment is open source, and is a general based accelerator at CERN. It's main goals are to test The Standard Model, search for extra dimensions, and particles associated with dark matter. The magnetic field generated from this accelerator can be up to 100,000 times bigger than the Earth's itself. They have a branch of this project called: CMS@Home. This allows the general public to remotely share processing power from their own home computer to help visualize findings from this accelerator. 

Currently, one other cool thing CERN is focusing on is helping slow and better understand the spread of Covid-19. As of 2020, they have donated over 10,000 computer cores to a project called Folding@home. This project is an open source project aimed at helping scientists develop new therapeutics for diseases, by studying and simulating the protein dynamics of those strains. With the outbreak of Covid-19 this project has become more important than ever. The other cool part about this project is that  it is open source, and you can donate your own computer remotely to help test and run these simulations as a background task.

Even more recently, CERN has helped develop new 3D and colored X-ray imaging systems. MARS Bioimaging, recently released a device called Medipix3 that is based around the hardware at CERN. The device is designed for visualizing blood vessels without the use of contrast agents, and can show how breaks and fractures can heal over time. The computer chips it uses were originally designed and used at CERN's particle accelerators. It is currently in clinical trials, and needs to be further experimented with before it's worldwide use.

Does CERN Hire VFX Artists?

So one question I was asking myself while writing this was: Does CERN hire or work with VFX artists? Scientific visualization is a big part of sharing your scientific results, so they must hire some artists to produce images.  So I did some digging, and here are some cool CERN projects that overlapped with the VFX and 3D industry.

After the release of Interstellar, Paul Franklin, Graham Jack, and Oliver James from DNEG were invited up to CERN to talk about science and the overlap of the film industry. During their development of Interstellar, they actively worked with Nobel Prize winner Kip Thorne. Who is an expert in particle physics and blackholes. This movie led to the development of The DNEG Gravitational renderer. Which renders models with extreme scientific accuracy. They also discussed how science played a pivotal role in developing other DNEG movies such as The Last Man. 

CERN also actively encourages art and science to overlap. As well as encourages new ideas into it's resident staff. They have a group called the CERN Colloquium which is aimed at bringing in experienced speakers to talk about a field other than particle physics. They are so dedicated to encouraging the fusion of art and science that in 2011, they created a global Arts at CERN program. This program is aimed at promoting scientific art and artists in residence. In 2018, they expanded this program to create traveling museum exhibitions. Such as the Quantum/Broken Symmetries which was available between 2016-2021. It focused on the artists residing at CERN and the communication they had with the scientists working there. On top of all this, they also have annual Artist in Residence/Collide Awards to celebrate their best artists of the year.


Defending Your Life (Part 1):

Software tools:

CMS Simulation Software:


CERN technologies:

A Roadmap for HEP Software and Computing R&D for the 2020s:

CERN throws 10,000 CPU cores at Folding@home coronavirus simulation project:

Simulate proton smashing with updated LHC@home:

Electromagnetic Design Software Optimizes Particle Accelerator Magnets for Upgrade to CERN's Large Hadron Collider:

The ATLAS Detector Simulation:

BioDynaMo: A New Platform for Large-Scale Biological Simulation:

Tag Archives: CERN:

Discovery machines:

Quantum/Broken Symmetries:


Where art and physics meet:


4 new particles were found at CERN — and they could crack the secrets of nature’s laws:



The Higgs boson:

CMS releases open data for Machine Learning:

New 3D colour X-rays made possible with CERN technology:

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