Sketchnoting Adventures: Higgsmania!

Since July of this year, the blogosphere, twitterverse, and various other media outlets have been abuzz with excitement surrounding the discovery of an elusive and special particle called the Higgs Boson. Or at least of something that very certainly resembles the Higgs Boson.

Scientists have searched and postulated about this particle for decades, so when data from the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) confirmed their suspicion of the particle’s existence, people around the world stopped both to celebrate and ask “what does it mean?” Sean Carroll’s new book, The Particle at the End of the Universe, attempts to answer just that. It is all about the Higgs, the LHC, and how the discovery impacts our understanding of the universe, and it’s being released today! I’m looking forward to picking up my copy soon!

Over the past few months, I had the opportunity to attend several talks and presentations about the Higgs and the LHC, so I thought today would also be a good day to share some Higgs Boson-themed sketchnotes.

The first is from a talk at a Science Cafe night in the Daily Planet Cafe at the Nature Research Center in downtown Raleigh. A few months ago they brought in NCSU physicist Dean Lee to talk to us about the Higgs Boson in an interview.

This one is from a CASW New Horizons talk by Mark C. Kruse at the ScienceWriters 2012 conference. It was a bit more technical than the first one.



These two are from the same ScienceWriters 2012 talk. They were done by the amazing Perrin Ireland on giant foam board.

Photos of Perrin’s scribes by Russ Creech.


Katy is a college student in North Carolina. She loves insects, astronomy, and pretty much anything related to science. Katy spends a lot of her time making messes with watercolors and might be in love with a robot named GLaDOS. Find her on twitter: @KatyAnnC. She also has a blog called Katy's Notebook.

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  1. Look, it feels a little cheeky to cut and paste this here, but this post got me thinking about the discovery of the Higgs again and how that made me feel. I wrote this a couple of days after the announcement and I don’t think I could do any better now at expressing those emotions. I’m hoping that this being an art site will cut me some slack on my pretension and presumption.

    One summer in my teen years my brother disappeared in our back yard. Or his bottom half did at any rate. He’d fallen through the rotting boards that covered an old septic tank that had long since been out of use. I laughed, and was secretly disappointed that the thing was no longer noxious in any profound way. Such is the love of brothers.

    It was known that there was another cistern out there under the lawn somewhere. I was given a spade and told to find it.

    Shwick, shwick, shwick…

    I randomly prodded the ground, listless and disorganised. It was beautiful day. The summer sun was broken by the papery leaves of our birch tree. Thousands of deciduous voices whispered in sibilant hisses, lulling in its gusting rise and fall.

    Shwick, shwick, shwick…

    This was getting nowhere fast. We lived in the kind of 50’s built suburb whose large yards and wide lots caused agoraphobia in inner city kids. Our back yard was huge, this was going to take some time.

    I sat under the tree and contemplated my task. Well, eventually I did. There might have been dozing, perhaps even napping. A plan came to me, eventually, in that gradual summer way.

    The septic had a system of gravel filled trenches that drained away from the settling tanks. Over the years they’d subsided causing subtle channels in the turf. The only consequence of which was to make our played-for-blood badminton a bit more challenging than was strictly necessary. But now they could narrow my search.

    Laying down flat and squinting across the lawn the pattern was quite clear. It had to be uphill from that point there, and was most likely a little west of centre.

    Shwick, shwick, shwick…a grid pattern’s best…

    Schwick, shwick, shwick…I should have brought out something to drink…

    Schwick, thump…..thump,thump!

    Holy crap, it worked!! And there I stood, heart racing. Anything could be down there, literally anything! Okay, maybe not a supermassive black hole or a Slaver stasis cube, but the possibilities were goosebumplely awesome. That feeling, that potential rushing up and down my spine chanting “What if, what if, what if!” is something I’ve felt all too rarely ever since.

    “We observe in our data clear signs of a new particle…”


    “…the 5 sigma signal at around 125 GeV we’re seeing is dramatic.”


    “We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature…”


    We stand atop that hollow space, we now know where it lies to a near perfect certainty. It could be a dead end, full of spider corpses and mouldy dirt, mere confirmation of the known and the knowable. Or it could be full of wonders so beyond our expectations that not even the summer drunk brain of a teenage geek can anticipate what’s hidden beneath.

    We live in an age that step by inexorable step is slaying our ignorance of the universe-as-it-is, and I revel in it with wanton abandon. It charges within me that physical rush of possibility so often lost forever with passing of the lazy summers of youth. It keeps me young, this ecstatic dance of discovery, and if you kids don’t like this middle-aged boogie…..here’s a spade, there’s my lawn, drink lots of fluids and the best of luck to you.

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