Or… how to power the Large Hadron Collider on parboiled potatoes

A Brief History of...

I had the great privilege of being awarded a research trip from University of Arts, London to CERN, home of The Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland in 2015.  

I created the installation ‘Orders of Magnitude: Potato Powered Cosmos’ as the result.

From this I was asked to return in 2016 and then be their artist-in-residence for the High School Teachers program in 2017.

The invitations came at the request of Dr. Michael Hoch, founder of  art@cms education and outreach department of C.M.S.  Compact Muon Selenoid one of the four main experiment sites at CERN.

Scale is unavoidable in CERN; scales at the extremes of space, time, knowledge, collaboration, finance and energy.
The website states that “CERN uses 1.3 terawatt hours of electricity annually, enough power to fuel 300,000 homes in the UK.”
I wondered…. is there not a cheaper, more sustainable and renewable energy source to probe the fundamental structure of the universe?

It also became clear, during the research trip, that CERN is more than the beautiful and complicated Large Hadron Collider that we have come to know through photographs.

It is a closely interrelated system of machine, people, place and experiment. 

And food.

The canteen is a very important place in CERN. It is where scientists from all over the world congregate, mix and discuss their work.

Their thoughts and calculations are, quite literally, powered by the food they eat.

First iteration, Triangle Gallery, London, 2016.

I found a published scientific paper that posited the idea of using potatoes to power areas of the world that were off grid.
I thought I’ll take this hypothesis up a notch to power the Large Hadron Collider.
So, job done, I could power the scientists AND the Large Hadron Collider with potatoes. . 
And here is the proof. 
…can only be observed when a human interacts with the Potato Powered Cosmos experiment. 
How it works

The energy created by the potatoes, in the form of a small current and voltage, powers an amplify. 

This is connected to a speaker and Theremin. When a live human plays with the Theremin (as you can see here) soundwaves are transferred through a layer of water on the speaker. 

This creates patterns in the form of standing waves and these are projected onto a screen.


CERN 2017

Potato Facts

Parboiling for 8 minutes was the optimum time to produce the most current – after that it was mash.

Potato Powered Cosmos’s 20kg of potatoes produced a whopping (not) 5 volts and 45 Milliamps.

Calculations suggested that 11.13 x 10,000,000,000kg kg of potatoes could fuel CERN for an hour… approximately.

Alternatively, if eaten, the experiment’s potatoes would power 6.3 average-sized scientists for one day

Photo of used battery cells from the ‘Large Potato Field Array’


I was asked by CMS to be the ‘Invited Artist’ for CERN’s High School Teachers Programme in 2017.

I collaborated with Physics teachers from all over the world to recreate the installation. It was a lot of fun and challenging at the same time.

We wrote an art/science educational booklet so the installation can be recreated by others.

Eventually an upgrade in technology is always needed.
Here is the Lemon Patch added, this increased the current by a whopping 5 milliAmps !

There is so much I learned on this project, this page can hardly touch on it. From trying to understand how the Large Hadron Collider actually works, the difference between various flavours of quarks, to the perfect time to parboil a potato.

There were many, many experiments and iterations, there’s one in the link below. But in the meantime, did I say only human interaction before? I was wrong.

Please enjoy Samson creating a ‘Canine Cosmos’ of his own.

CERN produced this video interview, it’s one minute long.