[This is a guest post by Josh Gowen*, about his infographic project The Big Bang Machine]
I was asked by London Based information design agency Signal Noise to produce a poster for an upcoming exhibition they were curating called Less Than a Second. This idea behind the exhibition was to explore how technology is enabling a vast number of data points and events to be read and understood across a variety of fields in less than a second, and the impact this data can have on our world.
After a fair while’s deliberation I decided to focus on the experiments at the Large Hadron Collider. The LHC consists of four experiments, each looking into pioneering theories of particle physics, most famously the Higgs Boson particle. They conduct these experiments by firing beams of protons at each other, which travel at 99.9% the speed of light around a 27km ring, located underneath the ground just outside Geneva. These protons collide inside giant sensors, recreating conditions similar to that of around a billionth of a second after the Big Bang. The sensors they collide in collect around 600 million images of these collisions every second.
These collisions produce a huge amount of data, which I decided to focus on for my poster. Around 1 petabyte of raw data is produced every second, equivalent to 1000 terabytes. This data is then subjected to rigorous trigger systems, which keep only 1 in a million images for further analysis. These final images are then transferred into the CERN data centre, where it is distributed across a worldwide computer grid, where scientists around the world can analyse and catalogue the data.
My final poster is a vizualisation of this process, with the outside circle representing how much data each experiment produces. I wanted to also show which sites around the world were analyzing data from each experiment site, giving the final poster a much more in depth look, as well as a colourful appearance. I chose to include some typography at the bottom to reinforce the data and the story behind the vizualisation. I used Bodoni for this, as I wanted this type to give the poster some character and avoid the almost automatic use of a san-serif typeface for this kind of vizualisation.
I ran into a few problems while trying to vizualise the sheer amount of data the LHC produced. I initially wanted to have accurate representations of how much the data was trimmed, but even on an A0 poster this proved difficult, with the data before it was trimmed taking up the majority of the space. I tried to also fit it into the current design, but soon realized that if I were to use a 2mm thick line to represent the data after the trimming process, the line thickness before the triggers would be around 2 metres wide.
Eventually I resigned to stick to a less accurate representation of the data trimming.
*Josh Gowen graduated from University College Falmouth with a degree in Graphic Design in 2012 and currently lives and works in London. He is a multidisciplinary, idea driven designer who specializes in editorial design, typography and data visualization. He also has an almost unhealthy obsession with circles. You can see more of his work at www.joshgowen.co.uk or on Behance.