Welcome to the first public BETA release of an interactive game that lets you become a virtual scientist at CERN! You will be presented with the real data and tools that the scientists use and we will guide you step-by-step through the exciting world of particle physics!
Learn about the insides of CERN and become a virtual scientist. The game takes you inside the Theoretical Physics group (TH) of the Physics department (PH), and gives you access to the same resources with the scientist. It then asks you the challenging question: "What should we change in our theory to accurately represent nature?".
Virtual Atom Smasher introduces you to particle physics, quantum mecanics, monte-carlo simulations and distributed computing. Sounds too complicated? Fear not! While playing, just browse through the pop up books and you can find your answers, from the simplest terms to the more complexed variables of the latest experiments.
Through Virtual Atom Smasher you are actively helping the scientists. Don't forget that your share the same goal with them when you are playing: correct the theoretical models in order to match to the data we have from the nature. Complete that, and your name might be on a CERN publication!
When you play the game you might not realize that you are actually running one of the most demanding operation someone can find at CERN: You are simulating millions of virtual collisions and you are analysing each one of them.
A network of computers, provided by volunteers, and a smart stack of computer software is in your hands, allowing you to run this complicated process with a click of a button.
There is a dozen of theories floating around, all waiting to be validated or rejected. The most well-evolved, yet very complicated theory is what we call the Standard Model of particle physics. It describes the fundamental particles and their interactions, leaving outside the force of Gravity. A more complete, and more elegant theory is the Super-Symmetry (or SuSY), which relies on the fact that every particle should have one or more 'symmetric' particles. Unfortunately that theory is not yet validated. Lesser known theories, are the using Extra Dimentions to explain the fundamental particles and their forces, and a lot of others.
As you see there is a lot of room for improvement in this field, and your contribution will be always welcome until we figure out how the universe works!
In order to validate a new theory, scientists are applying all it's rules and restrictions in a computer simulation. If their theory is correct, the computer simluation should produce excactly the same results as we observe in nature. In High-Energy Physics, what they are simluating is the collisions of particles (such as electrons or protons) with very high kinetic energy (99.9999991% the spee of light). After every collision, new particles are produced, out of pure energy and they run away from the collision point. This process of collision and production of new particles is called an event, and the software that produces such virtual collisions event generator
Due to their complexity and their chaotic nature, it's not possible to just get a papper and pencil and mathematically solve the equations that govern the universe! We are therefore left with only one solution: solve them numerically. This means that we will have to write down how we think the universe is working and then test if our theory is right for every numerical combination. Again, that's impossible, and therefore we are using statistics, trying to find the appropriate choice of numbers.
A Monte-Carlo simulation uses random numbers in it's equations, which are carefully selected in order to represent the most relevant cases. Such simulations run thousands or even millions of times in order to produce a statistical sample that we can say for sure that the observed outcome is correct.
We are using the event generator Pythia8, which incorporates most of the current theories in High-Energy physics. From the game interface you are actually providing all the fine-tuning in the theory parameters and you are running Pythia8 to see what will come out.
Each event, produced by the generator is just a bunch of particles, along with their physical information (such as momentum, charge, mass etc.). Since we are producing millions of them, we need somehow a mechanism to analyse them. For this reason we are using Rivet, a program that reads the collision produced by the generator, runs a number of analyses and presents the results in histograms. These are the results you are looking in the game interface.
For each simulation we will have to compute hundrends of thousands of collisions and wait for all of them to complete. Something like this could take from a couple of minutes to a couple of hours. This is not acceptable in an interactive game. In order to be able to provide real-time information to the game interface, as the simulation progresses, we have developed the LiveQ Framework. In addition, this framework makes sure to start the simulation as quickly as possible to as many machine as possible, effectively reducing the overall time that you will have to wait.
Our experimental software are running in a specialised linux distribution, and depend on quite some applications. However not all the volunteers run linux, nor they are willing to go through the installation process. Therefore, we have pre-packaged a Virtual Machine with all the software that we need, and we are sending this instead to the users.
We are using micro-CernVM as our virtual appliance, because it offers a small footprint and provides all the required mechanisms to deliver the latest software to all the users.
You are going to need a hypervisor (such as Virtual Box) if you would like to start your own Virtual Appliance in order to provide more computing resources in your project. However such task is not easy for everyone. For this reason we have developed CernVM WebAPI, a mechanism that can start a virtual machine in your computer direclty from the browser, taking care of the installation of a hypervisor if needed. Just sit back and enjoy!
Quite some people have contributed in the development of this game. From the theoretical physicists till the smallest developers, they have addressed all their efforts in order to make a useful educational tool for everyone!
Ioannis is based at CERN and developed the game interface and all the computing framework behind. He is also working in the PH/SFT group developing the Virtualization Technology used by the project.
Peter Skands at Monash University is the particle physicist who conceived of the game. He is providing all the scientific information and evaluates the outcomes of the project.
Lioumpa is our artwork designer and content developer. She designed the graphics and animations for the game and she has made simple and understandable most of the scientific explainations.
Francois is in the University of Geneva. He is our occasional taskmaster, to keep the team on schedule.
The dev team was guided by Ben Segal of CERN, who has masterminded the development of much of the technology needed for the game over several years.
Jose is in the University of Geneva has helped install the analytics that helped us monitor the game.