GENEVA (Reuters Life!) - A U.S. artist has unveiled a vast mural to what he called "a cathedral of science" -- the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) probing the origins of the universe at the CERN particle physics center near Geneva.
The brightly colored mural, three stories high and twice as wide, by 29-year-old Josef Kristofoletti, is on the main and side wall of a building on the sprawling CERN site, which straddles the Franco-Swiss border above and below ground.
Kristofoletti's work portrays the Atlas, one of the four massive particle detectors located underground along the 27-km (17 mile), oval-shaped LHC where what has been dubbed the "Big Bang" programme is under way.
"It is like a public face for the whole project in popular art," said CERN physicist Michael Barnett.
The artist, who has already painted a similar but smaller mural at an arts center in South Carolina devoted to the elusive Higgs Boson particle that CERN is aiming to find, said it was the extent of the LHC installation that had inspired him.
After seeing Italian Renaissance frescoes depicting religious mythology, he said, he had come to regard the project -- which started up on March 30 -- as "an unprecedented cathedral of science."
Despite its size, the mural -- easily visible from the main public road that runs through the CERN site across the border -- is only one third the size of the actual Alice detector in a huge cavern 100 meters (300 feet) below.
CERN said Kristofoletti's work, which took over a year to complete, "is the next best thing to seeing the detector." The artist said he was inspired "by the human creativity that goes into research at the frontiers of knowledge."
Since its launch, billions of particles have been smashed together in the LHC near the speed of light, with explosions almost identical to that of the Big Bang that created the universe and everything in it 13.7 billion years ago.
Hundreds of scientists at CERN -- the European Organization for Nuclear Research -- and in laboratories around the world are monitoring the collisions and looking for signs of the Higgs, a particle believed to give mass to matter.
They are also watching out for indications of the structure of the so-called dark matter that makes up about 23 percent of the universe and for any signs of evidence for the existence of other universes and how they might have come into being.
Editing by Jonathan Lynn