Artistic View on Physics

The Interdisciplinary Program art @ CMS is Five Years Old

The highly complex research of elementary particle physics is for most people not immediately comprehensible. An artistic approach can help overcome the inaccessibility of this discipline and make particle physics understandable. This is the basic idea of the art @ CMS program, which is celebrating its five-year anniversary this year.

Michael Hoch - promoted particle physicist, photographer and artist - also likes to use artistic means for communicating particle physics.
Image: privat / private

Physicists and artists observe the world with different eyes. This does not mean, however, that these two perspectives are mutually exclusive. On the contrary, they can also fertilize each other, of this Michael Hoch is convinced. The native Austrian studied physics in Vienna and later earned his Ph.D. at CERN near Geneva. At the same time, Hoch is a passionate photographer and artist. He began photographically documenting the physical experiments at CERN early on. The aesthetics of the science architecture - the huge research facilities of CERN - have always fascinated him.

Physics and Photography

In 2012, Michael Hoch created the program art @ CMS that combines physics and photography, science and art, which he still heads today. The program is interdisciplinary and aims to stimulate the artistic exploration of particle physics done at CERN. The name of the program refers to CMS, one of the four large experiments that have been in operation for years at CERN’s particle accelerator the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), and that evaluate traces of particle collisions. However, art @ CMS refers not only to the CMS experiment, but also to particle physics as a whole.

“For many years, I’ve made artistic photos at CERN from the perspective that only a physicist who has built up these miracles of modern science can have and who has access to it like no other photographer,” says Hoch. “From some of my photographs of the science apparatus CMS, I then created a few photo collages by integrating other science topics into the original photo. When I presented my works in exhibitions, it soon became clear that this way of presenting artistically complex scientific topics was of interest to a large public and invited them to discuss this in a neutral way and without reservations,” says Michael Hoch.

Enabling Exchange

In the fifth year of its existence, the art @ CMS program has two legs: on the one hand, artists are encouraged to delve into topics of particle physics (at their own expense) and to talk about them in an artistic language. “I see myself as an enabler,” says Michael Hoch. “Some time ago, for example, I brought the Zurich conceptual artist Christian Waldvogel and the ETH particle physicist Günther Dissertori together. “Artworks that emerge from such interdisciplinary encounters are then presented in different contexts.” At the exhibitions and events organized by art @ CMS, we have the freedom to work with professional artists as well as with students of all ages. Almost more important than the art work created is the process and dialogue that is generated between the artists, students and our scientific community,” Hoch says.

After artists, students are the second target group of the art @ CMS program. The program encourages workshops (art @ CMS sciARTmasterclass) on particle physics topics in high schools - and works to ensure that these topics are subsequently taken up and further worked on in art education. art @ CMS has been cooperating with the Ecole Internationale de Genève for several years. The resulting works are exhibited at the school, but also on the premises of the CMS experiment at CERN.

Physicists’ Skepticism Diminishes

Over the past five years, Michael Hoch has participated in hundreds of exhibitions in numerous countries around the world, supported by his scientific network. He has also launched about two-dozen workshops in schools. The physicist, whose activity is financed by the CMS experiment, has achieved this because he was able to convince particle physicists of the meaningfulness of his artistic work. “I had to do a lot of work in persuading my colleagues to become involved in this interdisciplinary dialogue with other professional creative people and with students. It took me two years to get enough support from my scientific community. The moment I got this support , became the moment my company “broke even,” says the art @ CMS founder.

Author: Benedikt Vogel

Contact: Dr. Michael Hoch / / Program leader art@CMS / Phone +41 75 411 5720

Artistic video on the CERN visit of a student group from Salzburg in February 2017
Video of an exhibition opening in 2015 at the Ecole Internationale de Genève


  • Art
  • Elementary particles
  • Particle Physics