How would the universe have turned out if the elementary particles had slightly different masses? This question was asked in an exhibition about the Large Hadron Collider and four animations by Tricklabor supplied potential answers.

One of the research goals of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva is to observe (or declare nonexistent) the very shy Higgs boson. According to the Standard Model it is involved in the mechanism that causes elementary particles like electrons and quarks to have a mass.

The organizers of the exhibition Weltmaschine, the German Executive LHC Outreach Group (GELOG), wanted to explain why it is necessary to understand the origin of mass. Tricklabor was brought on board to help develop a concept for an exhibition display about the subject. It was supposed to illustrate the importance of the specific particle mass values for our own existence.


The first idea was to create an interactive “What if…?”-experiment: arbitrarily change particle masses and immediately see the effect on our everyday life. Ultimately, though, this suggestion was dismissed as too complex. Instead we settled on showing three concrete scenarios: in each of them the mass of one type of particles was different right from the big bang.

Tricklabor’s task had now become to design a visual history tour through our own universe and those three alternatives. We developed the scripts in close cooperation with Prof. Michael Kobel who represents the LHC’s ATLAS experiment at GELOG (sorry for all those acronyms). See below for the scientific publications which form the basis for the scenarios.


enlargeThe visual idea of the tour was to connect the key events in the life of a universe by a continuous forward motion of the camera. Also, it should feel like travelling through an illustration with strong colours. The animations were to have no spoken narration therefore everything had to be explained in short on-screen titles. Instead of superimposing them we integrated the titles into the scene so the camera flies past them.

Creating the final third of the electron mass scenario was the best part of the project as it contains the most ‘science-fiction’ aspects: an earth without oceans and strange, giant creatures on Saturn’s moon Titan. The final challenge was to combine all animations into one print resolution illustration to accompany the exhibition display and for use in talks on this subject.

On tour

The original Weltmaschine exhibition is currently touring Germany but the “What if…?” animations have also garnered enough interest to be used in other exhibitions as well, most notably the Science Express, a science exhibition on a train.

Scientific References

R.N. Cahn - The 18 arbitrary parameters of the standard model in your everyday life (1996) -
V.Agrawal, S.M.Barr, J.F.Donoghue, D.Seckel - The anthropic principle and the mass scale of the Standard Model (1997) -
C. Hogan - Why the Universe is Just So (1999) -
Th Damour und J.F.Donoghue - Constraints on the variability of quark masses from nuclear binding (2007) -

Project details

Made for
German Executive LHC Outreach Group
Scholz & Friends Identify
A visual history tour through four different universes in about 90 seconds each
Script development, storyboard; on-screen titles in German and English; production of four animations and one illustration
"The strong background in physics and science in general allows Tricklabor to produce animations and videos that appeal to the general public and experts alike." - Prof Michael Kobel, ATLAS / GELOG

"The collaboration with Tricklabor was a pleasant experience, effective and constructive. The animations have gained national and international recognition." - Ulrike Behrens, Public Relations, DESY / GELOG
Directed by
Marc Hermann
Executive producers
Prof. Michael Kobel, Prof. Thomas Naumann, Ulrike Behrens
Funded by
The German Federal Ministry of
Education and Research
Galaxy images
ESA / Hubble
Fusion, Modo, Vegas
Also on these video sites
YouTube | Vimeo (HD version)
Bookmark and Share
Home | Portfolio | FAQ | Contact | auf Deutsch