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Physics + MathPhysics & Math

Our Retinas' Pattern Recognition Abilities Could Help Us Understand the Universe

ByAllison EckNOVA NextNOVA Next

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A new tool for analyzing subatomic particle collisions could help us see the universe like never before. A bioinspired algorithm, it is based on the pattern-recognition capabilities of the human eye.

Though it’s not ready for use, physicists hope it will be available in time for the 2020 upgrade of the LHC, which will fire a more intense beam of protons and yield a larger swath of data per second. With more numbers to crunch, scientists will have to work even harder to find the wrinkles in the data that they’re looking for. Such deviations from the norm give them insight into the basic structure of our universe.

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A new algorithm for assessing particle collisions, devised for the LHC upgrade in 2020, is inspired by the human eye's pattern recognition capabilities.

The algorithm works like an “artificial retina,” parsing through the trajectories of millions of collisions much in the same way that the human visual system processes patterns of light.

Here’s Melissa Hogenboom, writing for BBC News:

CERN physicist Diego Tonelli, one of a team of collaborators of the work, explained that the “artificial retina” detects a snapshot of the trajectory of each collision which is then immediately analysed.

These snapshots are then mapped into an algorithm that can run on a computer, automatically scanning and analysing the charged particle trajectories, or tracks. Exposing the detector to future collisions will then allow teams sift out the interesting events.

The algorithm is 400 times faster than any technology currently available to CERN scientists, making it an invaluable resource for speedy interpretation of data. While it will be used mostly for so-called “flavor physics,” which deals with the interactions of quarks and leptons, it could also give physicists information about dark matter, the Higgs boson, and more.