about

5sigma

For my graduation, I designed a new visual language for particle physics. Since there are no clear rules about the visual representation of elementary particles, I decided to design a symbology for all elementary particles. I based my work on the sketches of John Dalton, one of the founders of the modern atomic theory. Back in 1808, he came up with symbols for all atoms and molecules based on the older alchemical symbols. Nevertheless, five years later, his symbology was replaced by the new chemical abbreviations and formulas introduced by Jöns Berzelius, which we still use today. The reason that Dalton’s icons never became standard, is because the symbolism didn’t logically fit the particles they represented, and because in those days, there were still many atoms and molecules being discovered, which stretched the capabilities of a purely visual language. However, while there are too many atoms and molecules for such an approach, there are still just few elementary particles, making them a perfect candidate for such an symbolic system.

Based on Dalton’s sketches, I designed symbols for all elementary particles—such as quarks, leptons and bosons—making sure they are easy to remember. While the symbols can be used in black and white, colour can be added to make the different groups of particles easier to distinguish. The antiparticles are almost the same as their regular counterparts, apart from their black backgrounds.

While this new visual language can be used in many different ways, I worked out three possibilities. The first is an infographic about the standard model, explaining all elementary particles in detail. The second is an animation explaining the phenomenon of neutrino oscillation, using a great analogy starring Cinderella by Emily Conover, all using the same visual language. The third is the graphic identity of a fictional conference on elementary particle physics called “5sigma”. For the identity, I also used the symbols in a purely aesthetic way on the conference-poster, depicting an explosion in a particle accelerator with many different particles flying in all directions in a—seemingly—chaotic way.

—2014