When the Higgs boson was discovered in July of last year, thousands of news outlets raced to put together stories on the ground-breaking discovery. Many of them struggled with how to explain–and illustrate–the concept of the new boson, which The New York Times called “the only manifestation of an invisible force field, a cosmic molasses that permeates space and imbues elementary particles with mass.” How do you depict a particle that no one has seen?
To illustrate their July cover story on the new boson, the venerable French daily Le Monde took a major chance. Rather than run its story alongside glitchy screenshots or vague stock photos, the magazine invited two 25-year-old artists, known collectively as Zim & Zou, to take a crack at depicting the boson.
Zim & Zou is the studio of two graphic designers named Lucie Thomas and Thibault Zimmermann. Unlike many of their peers, Thomas and Zimmerman work almost exclusively with their hands. “Rather than composing images on a computer,” they explain, “[we] prefer creating real objects with paper and photographing them.”
Tasked with creating five images for Le Monde, Zim & Zou stuck to their creative guns, relying on off-the-shelf craft materials to illustrate the story. In one image, different particles are represented by wadded up tinfoil, bouncy balls, and rubber balloons. For the cover image, they created a bricolage of craft paper and magazine cut-outs, arranged in circles to represent the rings of a particle collision. At the center, a sprig of Celtic ornament represents the boson.
The combination of elementary-school crafts and cutting-edge physics may not be intuitive, but in practice, it’s brilliant. Check out Zim & Zou’s full website here.