The poetry of particle physics


This isn’t a post about science, but without some background you’ll be wondering what a poem’s doing here.

CERN – the European Organization for Nuclear Research is located in Geneva. It’s where they study the fundamental structure of the universe with huge particle accelerators and detectors that collision particles at near the speed of light. It came to the fore 2012 when they were able to observe a new particle consistent with the Higgs Boson, a missing link in the theory of the so-called “Standard Model”. As a result, Prof Higgs and his colleague were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics the following year.

CERN celebrated its 60th anniversary two years ago with a series of initiatives to create a greater awareness of their achievements. For the occasion, apart from various events there and in town, they presented new books for the general public. One of them was “From Physics to Daily Life”* which describes in two tomes the development in CERN of myriad applications in the fields of Biology, Medicine, Healthcare, Informatics, Energy and Environment The best known is probably the invention of the World Wide Web by British scientist Sir Tim Berners Lee who’s at the forefront of the Net Neutrality movement today, to promote and defend internet access for all. But you probably didn’t know that touch screen technology was also originally developed in CERN, did you? Over the years, I’ve done proof reading, language editing and translating for various CERN-related publications, all of which were always fascinating and instructive. In professional translating you don’t translate unless you understand, so you have to learn masses of stuff as you go along if you want to be sure your translated text makes sense.

My CERN mug: the Big Bang

My CERN mug: the Big Bang

The most creative project I’ve ever worked on, bar none, was “POP Science Poetry”, that blends poetry and science. In the first phase of each yearly edition, acknowledged EU poets are invited to visit CERN for a 2-3 day workshop, taken around, and the arcane of leading edge physics are explained to them by their hosts who are world-renowned scientists. The poets go back home, and have a couple of months to write their original poems on CERN and research.  In the second phase, poetry contests for amateurs are launched in various countries – therefore various languages. They’re open to all, and are well publicized in schools. The poems some of the youngsters have produced have been intriguing at the very least, and in many cases quite striking. It’s a fact that young people in the EU are not very attracted to physics, which they see as tough and dry. This is alarming for the future of R & D. or simply for the future of these countries. However, imagination in all its forms is necessary for top research. There are many famous Einstein quotes that have nothing to do with logic, he tells us clearly that truly creative ideas come to us through imagination, art and emotions.

So here’s a glimpse at POP Science Poetry 2015, with a poem by Italian poet Deborah D’Agostino – in its English version. Her poem is a perfect example of how it’s possible to evoke the micro and macro of physics and of the universe with a deep sense of mystery and elegance.

How do you see scientists and researchers?  as engineer-types or dreamers?

*Wiley Blackwell 2015, edited by Beatrice Bressan

Go to  to read many other “POP Science” poets.




 beneath the solid blue
of the sky a sea bird flies off;
and never stops: because all the images proclaim:
“further on”!

(from “Cuttlefish” – in “Mistral”  by Eugenio Montale)


Deeply hidden and buried

the enormous Flower of Light, between the airport

and the Jura Mountains,

concealed, awaits, asphalt root

circular cement

beam of diffuse irradiated colour.

A seagull’s lake-wing,

with a shiny dart,

ushers myriad collisions,

the many destinies of protons,

leading towards unexplored worlds.


At a point among four, revealed by the detectors

at never attained speeds

provoked by the accelerator

the protons collide

in a festive merry-go-round

and leave traces, pregnant with meaning,

vibrating at times just a single instant.


To be able to see

the City’s iridescent colours

become reticules of lights,

and to see Light shining on the horizon at sundown,

beyond the atmosphere on the edge of the Planet,

then Darkness, a star-spangled sky.

The Galaxy, a Spiral of Light,

a thought in the dark that holds

tight to the stars and planets.

Deep darkness, silence, non-void

the unmeasurable Universe almost completely

 wrapped in a dark matter,

invisible and indifferent,

in constant conflict with dark energy,

antagonist, expands to infinity.


From the Primordial Fire of countless

volcanos exploding in all directions, generating

Space, Time, what we were.

To stop and ponder the original

Break in Symmetry

as often occurs between lovers.

To stop and ponder

that all is complementary in the Universe:

the rhythm of the trees in the woods, alternated

full and void,

to breathe in and breathe out, the ebb and flow of waves

the pauses and the notes.

And what is complementary annihilates itself:

the non-loving, light and darkness, matter

and anti-matter,

only one part left, the other yields.

Or to postulate that it was never created

or, even, that it disappeared

fleeing beyond our horizon of events.

To only know that what is left

in this life

is everything we know, and Light.



Inky-sea on New Moon nights

Abandoned to stop and pause

I recall the Cosmos

-impossible to speak-

and this foam of seas

that seems to whirl on itself

I compare to the galaxies that are expanding

without seeming to.

And I recall the deep darkness of the night

the darkness of the soul, incomprehensible

to Humankind’s ferocity,

to the paradox of countless lights

that are deep darkness

and recall how different

from this dense and dark sea

appears the beach in the morning heat

In Nature

all our biases

contradicted by the facts

become a paradox

We are made of shadow and light


The multi-coloured merry-go-round of protons colliding

spells some hope for the ills of human beings.

In this labyrinth of theories,

based on the principle of indetermination,

infinity remains a matter for poets.

Beyond the unexplored worlds, beyond the pentaquark,

beyond this, what is left

is mystery.

                                                                                     Deborah D’Agostino



Original poem in Italian   © 2015 Deborah D’Agostino  

English translation © 2015 Bea de Meirelles

French transaltion on Bonjour!  page

Thanks to: CERN Geneva, Pop Science Poetry, Subway Edizioni Milano.

photos: garden flowers and CERN mug both mine ;  overhead view and accelerator


This entry was posted in Blogging, Creativity, Cultural, Science and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to The poetry of particle physics

  1. This is brilliant (and I mean the translation, too). Scientists have such a life of the mind–true poetry. How long did the translation take? Such a singular talent.

    • Bea dM says:

      Thanks Catherine. On this one I actually prefer the French translation, the Latin-root words are closer to the flow of the original. Translating poems is fun, I like to have time before deadlines: first draft as literal as possible, let sit, then re-read, correct and fine-tune with synonyms over various days.

  2. Barb Knowles says:

    When I was reading the beginning science explanation, I was wondering how poetry could come out of all of this. The poem is lovely, and does combine the science with the dreaming. I have a question though, are the bold-faced words it the original poem? And are they to draw our attention to the science? I would have enjoyed science more in school if I could have learned or applied it using poetry as my compass.

    • Bea dM says:

      Yes Barb, the bold-faced words are in the original poem for that very reason. For me, working on this project brought home just how elegant and harmonious strings and universes are 🙂 Later this year I’ll post a few more of these, by other poets.

      • Barb Knowles says:

        I look forward to it. I would like to share it with a science teacher, giving all the correct credits. Is that possible? Ill understand if it’s not. I assume it’s copyrighted, but you included the credits. Please let me know.

      • Bea dM says:

        I’d love you to share it, but I’ll check it again and let you know. As I remember there are copyrights but it’s a CERN project that’s meant to be distributed free.

  3. BunKaryudo says:

    What a great theme for poetry! I loved your translation. How about a follow-up to do with gravity waves? 🙂

  4. What a fantastic project! We both work in technology industries and we truly believe that the best engineers in any field are the ones who dare to dream about a way to solve a problem that others deem unsolvable. The marriage of art and science is an exquisite match 🙂

    • Bea dM says:

      I like that we agree on this, it’s people who are in some kind of IT or scientific field who really see the need for more imagination and art.

  5. zipfslaw1 says:

    I had to look up “reticule”–great word.

    I certainly can’t speak for all researchers, or even for all researchers in my field, but personally, I really need a mix of what you call engineering and dreaming. My equivalent for that is having projects that have clear paths to application to problems of health or of biology, and at the same time having projects that explore theoretical questions that might not pay off in any kind of application very quickly.

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