In Search of the Higgs Boson 
Xavier Cortada


Hibiscus Gallery:  About exhibition  
Cortada site: 
 Artwork | TEDxFIU Talk | COSMOS article


Xavier Cortada (with the participation of physicist Pete Markowitz), “In search of the Higgs boson,” digital art, 2013



Meet and greet artist Xavier Cortada and special guest physicist Pete Markowitz on September 16, 2018 from 10:00 AM to noon.

Both will be speaking about their collaboration at 11:00 AM.

Replicas of the banners will be on display at

Pinecrest Gardens 
Historic Entrance Gallery
11000 Red Road
Pinecrest, FL 33156

Exhibition runs thru October 3, 2018


Media Contact: Michelle Hammontree
Communications Manager
What happens when a physicist and artist collide?
Art inspired by the Nobel prize-winning discovery of “the God particle” at the CERN unites the worlds of art and science.
Pinecrest, FL – Art and science “collide” when artist Xavier Cortada and FIU Physicist Pete Markowitz come together for an intimate talk about their work. The event takes place three days after the Museum at Prairefire in Kansas City launches the “In Search of the Higgs boson” exhibition featuring large reprints of the famed banners by Mr. Cortada, which depict the five search strategies scientists used to make the Nobel prize-winning discovery of the Higgs boson particle.
Join us Sunday, September 16th from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon at the Pinecrest Gardens Historical Entrance Building, 11000 Red Road for this intimate gathering where visitors can talk to the physicist and artist about their work.
Smaller replicas of the banners will be on display so that visitors can see them and understand what happens when an artist and physicist “collide.” The original banners are on permanent on display at CERN, the world’s largest particle physics research center, in Geneva, Switzerland, where the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) resides.
“Science is my muse,” Cortada said. “The detection of the Higgs boson was intricate and multilayered, and so are the artworks I created. Stained glass references the LHC as a modern-day cathedral that helps us understand the universe and shape our new worldview. The oil painting technique honors those who came before us, the repetition of motifs across the five works celebrates internationalism and rendering the work as ‘banners’ marks this as a monumental event.
Nicknamed “the God particle,” the Higgs boson imbues all other particles with mass. Its discovery in mid-2012, half a century after it was first hypothesized, culminated the work of 182 universities and institutes in 42 countries. Identifying the Higgs required the most complex machine ever built, the Large Hadron Collider.
Interview with the artist, photos and video available upon request.
Xavier Cortada
Xavier Cortada’s science art practice is oriented toward social engagement and the environment. At CERN, Cortada worked with physicist Pete Markowitz to develop a site-specific art installation capturing the five search strategies used to discover the Higgs boson particle. The five giant banners hang at the location (more than 300 feet below ground) where the particle was discovered.
Cortada often collaborates with scientists in his art-making, and has worked with groups globally to produce numerous joint art projects, including environmental installations at the North Pole and South Pole, peace murals in Cyprus and Northern Ireland, child welfare murals in Bolivia and Panama, AIDS murals in Switzerland and South Africa and eco-art projects in Taiwan and Holland.


“In Search of the Higgs Boson”

In Geneva, FIU artist Xavier Cortada and physicist Pete Markowitz delivered an Art-Science talk during the CERN CMS Week Conference, created a site-specific installation at the CMS experiment venue and engaged 300 scientists from around the world in a performance art piece that transforms them into the very subatomic particles they research

About: Xavier Cortada and Pete Markowitz were already talking about how to elucidate the impact of the science at CERN, when Cortada was invited to visit the experiment in August 2012.  He was then invited to create a site-specific installation at the experiment location.

The scope of the CMS experiment is vast. The sheer size of the detector, the immense weight, the incredibly detailed engineering, the number of channels of information are unprecedented. The experiment transcends both time and space, with the planning, reviews, commissioning, data taking and now the upgrades going on to allow us to find the truths of nature.  The ability at the end of the day to see beyond ourselves and the collaboration’s reach not only across time but across the globe, with thousands of scientists working in a unified, coherent mechanism evokes hope in mankind.

The Discussions: In their discussions, Markowitz and Cortada began thinking about the classical studies of the 1950s, showing that a proton could not be fundamental due to its finite size.  In other words, if a photon hits one side of the proton and that scattering deforms the initial side of the proton, the opposite side does not even know until some later time governed by the speed of light and the proton’s size.  This series of experiments led to the idea of quarks inside the proton, such as as those studied in the LHC experiments.

In their conversations, they then continued thinking about how observations such as this could become the basis of an art piece for the building above the CMS experiment — maybe with two stained glass panels (one showing the deformation and the other not).  The progression led to developing a performance piece involving the CMS scientists:

The Performance: Their performance, to be performed at a vernissage during the April 2013 CMS collaboration meeting, will transform the building above the underground CMS experiment into one of  the protons colliding directly below in the LHC accelerator.   In the piece, they invite scientists to participate by wearing a cap with LED lights, showing one of the 6 colors which represent the flavors of the quarks. The physicists themselves then take the role of the quarks inside a proton with the building serving as the confining (proton) walls.  Through their social interactions each scientist will mimic the natural interactions studied in the experiment below.


The Installation: Working together, Cortada and Markowitz developed a permanent art installation to be unveiled at the vernissage.   The installation’s five banners give the different strategies to sift through the voluminous collisions recorded by the CMS experiment in the search for the Higgs-like particle.  The foreground of each five-meter long banner shows an event which is a possible candidate for each of these different decays of the Higgs-like particle to a final state: two photons, two Z, two W, two bottom quarks or two tau leptons.  The backgrounds reflect the additional breadth of the physics program. Each depicts selected pages from every article published by the collaboration.  In a very real sense, the banners serve as an homage to the CMS collaboration’s more than 4000 scientists and engineers whose work is diseminated through those very publications.  At the same time the complexity of the work illustrates the challenge in paring down the myriad of interactions to select those scatterings which might have  produced a Higgs boson.

The resulting exhibit is about honoring the people who have increased our understanding of the universe — those scientists, engineers, technicians and others from around the entire planet whose work and names are showcased in these banners.   The connections between their work downstairs and the people themselves is brought out in both the banners and the performance.  In the performance piece, the physicists become their work.  In each banner, their work becomes art.

The art banners (created by digitally manipulating models, publications, logos and charts produced by the CMS collaboration) evokes the CMS experiment’s dual legacy: inspiring a future generation of scientists by building upon the work of those who came before.

The Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) is one of the four experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The Higgs boson was postulated to explain why particles have mass and therefore why gravity acts. In July 2012, two of the LHC experiments (CMS and ATLAS) announced the discovery of a new, Higgs-like particle. Xavier Cortada is Artist-in-Residence at Florida International University College of Architecture + The Arts and a professional artist in the Miami area. Pete Markowitz is a Professor of Physics and Fellow of the Honors College working on the CMS experiment.