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Archive for December, 2007

What I want for Christmas is …

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

Ok, stepping up to the soap box here, but I am pretty miffed. I’ll warn you that this is off the top of my head, but I think the sense is correct, although the literalist lawyers will probably take me apart. Be nice to get some comments, even if they are on fire.

In a political year, when noone in congress wants to get blamed for shutting down the government less they lose their cushy post next November, the “future” takes a beating at the hands of the “now”. It’s the Omnibus Bill that congress just passed, and most representatives probably don’t even realize it but it is a disaster for science across the board and a catastrophe for High Energy Physics in particular. So much for the promises of the Competitive Initiative where a bunch of leaders from Science and Industry told the Government that America had better invest in basic research if it didn’t want to get left behind. These guys call this bill a

step backward. … The President and Congress, for all their stated support this year for making basic research in the physical sciences and engineering a top budget priority, ended up essentially cutting, or flat-funding, key science agencies.

Earlier Congress responded to the Initiative with the COMPETES Act earlier, but again, apparently rhetoric without teeth. Lots of talk about investing in America’s future through basic research, but in the end, meager increases or cuts.

Does John Q. Public care? Not now, but later, maybe 10-20 years later, when

  • the research at ITER gives the participating countries a shot at fusion, and it is asked, why not the US, look back to this budget when the government cut us out of the program.
  • we’ve learned what we can from the LHC and are now making new discoveries at the ILC, and you ask, how come the US doesn’t have a major accelerator facility? look back to this budget when the programs at NoVa project and ILC research and development were sacrificed.
  • There’s an “all hands” meeting at Fermilab today, where the director will try to lay out a plan to weather the storm. No idea what he’ll say, but to make a sports analogy, if you don’t keep playing, your skills get rusty, and you no longer are able to compete. What would you say if a country made a bid to host an international facility, but doesn’t have a government that can make good on its promises for support (not to mention the paranoia driven hassle at Immigration/Security – you think it is bad for Americans traveling in this country, try traveling with an accent).

I cannot necessarily argue that science should receive the top priority in the face of some of the suffering that goes on in our country, but on the flip side there is a huge amount of money that deserves lesser priority as well. Japan is a nation where basic research is valued at the highest level. Now look at your TV, your car, your DVD player.
What does America make? Lately, “culture”. That’s our export. So what do we need science for? Bill Foster, now running for congress is a former Fermilab High Energy physicist but before that started Electronic Theatre Controls because he was a college physicist interested in control devices, and figured out how to use microprocessors to control light and sound equipment. The business blossomed into a worldwide enterprise, lighting major theatres and productions all over the world. Have a look at the some of their stuff. Not a bad return for an early investment in basic research.

Well, enough ranting. If I am only writing to fellow scientists, I am preaching to a choir, but if there are non-scientists who love science (whether or not it’s because of Walter Lewin) now would be a time to ask your representatives if they even know what is going on.

What I want for Christmas is a country that invests in science and discovery.



Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

‘Twas the week before the CERN closure…

This is one of my favorite weeks to be at CERN. CERN officially closes for two weeks at the end of every year. During this time, I suppose it is possible to enter CERN, but bring a heavy coat because they turn the heat off to most of the buildings. This is the last week before the closure and already things are starting to wind down.

By now most of the Americans have left. It is very expensive to fly this coming weekend so most people have already headed back to the States for the break. A lot of the Europeans have left for the same reason. It is easier to travel now then over the weekend. There are no big meetings at CERN because everyone else is traveling. No one wants to start any serious operations or tests on the detector because we have to power off the full system tomorrow anyway. So all that is left at CERN is basically a skeleton crew.

And I love it. One week to just sit in my office, with no meetings, no phone calls, no detector crises to attend to, no interruptions. Just work.

It is not that I don’t like the normal hustle and bustle of CERN. I enjoy the silence of this week so much only because it is such a stark contrast to all other weeks. But I think one of the most commonly spoken phrases in all of particle physics is probably, ‘if I just had two days with no interruptions I could get [insert name of your analysis here] done’.

So that is how I see this week. A week where I can start to tackle some of those if-I-just-had-two-days tasks that I have been putting off for so long. Let’s see how successful I actually am. Thus far my success rate is zero-point-zero. But I have grand ambitions.



Tuesday, December 18th, 2007

No it’s not the golden age of rock and roll — in effect the pre-history to the continuing rock era — but the crazy pre-history of the LHC era. Here at BNL, the high energy folks are hosting the (for now) twice-yearly “US ATLAS Analysis Jamboree”, and there are ATLAS people all over the Physics department this week. While being a nuclear type keeps me a bit on the sidelines, I’m playing the fly-on-wall and listening excellent updates on many aspects of the physics analysis effort. There are also interesting talks on how experience at previous collider experiments (especially the Tevatron) will point to early physics topics at the LHC. Of course, some of us (ahem) are taking their cues from experience at RHIC and are thinking about first hour physics topics, rather than first year.  But that’s just us; the early physics in the first year LHC will be essential to serious searches for new physics, clearing the way to the Higgs and SUSY and extra dimensions by bread-and-butter measurements of top quarks, jets, photons, taus, etc.  More importantly, it’s a little-mentioned but widely-understood phenomenon that a precise measurement of something “basic” can often yield anomalies that point the field in new directions.

USATLAS Jamboree at BNLBut another important subtext here is the ramp up to hundreds of people getting their hands on the first data, and access to the software tools is the key. One of the real struggles is the tension between the incessant drive to develop new features and tools to keep up with new ideas, and the need to maintain some stability in the interfaces and functionality such that people can develop sophisticated codes over longer time scales. As usual with this kind of thing, the tension is inevitable, but meetings like this do make a huge difference, putting many of the interested parties in one place to sit in rooms with each other. Much better than EVO, if you ask me.


New Year’s Resolutions

Monday, December 17th, 2007

In about four days I am off to the States for Christmas. I am looking forward to seeing my family, getting some sun (it is most often gray during the day here in Geneva during the winter – and I am spending too much time underground), not wondering how much that pair of sneakers is in dollars this week, and just not thinking too much about work. Its good to have a break, and I still like to fly, I don’t know why…

But about work, I have thought of some “resolutions” for the next year:

  1. I will not scribble my to-do lists everywhere and then have to sort though a pile of notes to figure out what I noted. I will write them down on the same piece of paper in legible handwriting. I will actually write the critical things in my notebook again. Scraps of paper get lost.
  2. I will actually take at least a half hour for lunch and go away from my computer or electronics to give my eyes a break. Even if I just stare at the wall while I eat. Eating in front of your computer risks sticky/crumby keys and orange juice on the screen.
  3. I will not send e-mails without checking the TO: field carefully since Mac Mail auto-completes the name, and it isn’t always the right person. So-and-so doesn’t need to hear about the missing cables.
  4. I will write documentation with details for my colleagues.
  5. I will label things – spare parts, cables, etc. so my colleagues can find them too.
  6. I will find time to read about physics and not browse the electronic parts and tools at Farnell.
  7. I will work on my French conversation so that I don’t get hung up on because I am taking too long to formulate my sentence on the phone. Not everyone here speaks English!
  8. I will try to keep the lab and the cabinet underground neat. I will not dump things on the lab bench.
  9. I will remember to turn off the soldering iron/microscope lamp.
  10. And lastly, I will not procrastinate the jobs I don’t like. Better to get them done and over with then fret over doing them! The scratches from the cable ties and the banged knuckles heal.

Happy New Year et Bonne Année



The Tracker is on the move!

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007


The CMS Tracker, the worlds largest Silicon strip detector by about a factor of 10 or more, is on the move. Elvis has left the building!

This is the detector my group works on, and it is huge – enough Silicon modules to cover a backyard swimming pool, 10 million channels, and quite a feat to put together and run. Last year it was put together on the Meyrin site in the Tracker Integration Facility, and this evening it took the journey to CMS. I blogged about it before, so at least that’s a documented prediction about the LHC that came true! Another very big milestone on the road to startup for CMS.

Now the real fun starts – well, most likely after the holidays, but then we have to cable up and check out this behemoth – our fantastic postdoc just gave a plenary talk at the CMS week about our avante garde (literally) project which was to install a small spare piece of tracker early, to get all the bugs with the power supply system and DAQ worked out before the real deal arrived. As an added bonus, this device was the first piece of the Tracker to be used in the CMS Global Runs, and not only was the first subdetector integrated into the Global DAQ, but also was able to be powered overnight without attendance, which means we ran more than one billion triggers through it overnight, with no trouble from our side or the Central DAQ side. This bodes well for the future, but lets hope the real deal doesn’t give us too many nasty surprises.

It’s CMS week, which means a whole lot of meetings…I attended a fair amount by videoconference, which in some respects is better than being there, when all the technology works. Unfortunately it doesn’t always work so well, but it is getting better with demand. I guess the big news this CMS week is the election of Dan Green, a Fermilab physicist, as Chair of the Collaboration Board. If the Spokesperson is “the president”, the Collaboration Board would be “the Senate”, although maybe the British version with “Prime Minister” and “House of Lords” would for be more apt, seeing as it is a European based experiment. Anyway, since our collaboration is 30% US based, more than any other country, it is good to see US representation at the highest levels of CMS. Besides that, Dan has been involved for quite a long time and is well respected by the entire collaboration, so his appointment as Chair is welcomed by all collaborators independent of nationality.

Now all we have to do is get another Fermilab physicist elected to Congress!


An Apology to CMS

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

I feel I must apologize to my CMS colleagues. In a previous posting lamenting the number of ATLAS meetings, I quoted that CMS had ONLY 947 meetings this past year. It seems there was a problem with the conference web server at the time. This is what the web site lists now


2905 meetings in this past year. My apologies to CMS for suggesting they had so few meetings.

I am simultaneously relieved and disappointed by these new statistics. Relieved in the sense that maybe ATLAS isn’t as verbally inefficient as I thought. ATLAS has had 4992 meeting so far this year. This is only approximately two times CMS’ number. But disappointed in the sense that maybe all this means is that we are just BOTH verbally inefficient. It really just mystifies me that 5000 meetings a year is the price of doing physics in a large collaboration.

But never say that we doesn’t plan ahead. CMS already has a meeting scheduled for 2019!

Okay. Seriously. I am done obsessing about this. No more on this subject.


The Fear of Pursuit

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

When I was in college competing for the university rowing team, my coach, Carrie, was a mastermind at inventing new and creative torturous practices. I remember one land practice in particular. Our boathouse was located in Back Bay of Newport Beach, CA, nestled into the bluffs. We’d had a heavy rain the previous day and the water had cut trails down the bluffs. Carrie led us out to relatively shallow-sloped bluff and told us to sprint up the bluff, along one of the water cut paths. Then repeat that 30 times. And just to spice the practice up a bit, a few seconds after one person started up the hill, she started a second person. The purpose was the first person must reach the top without being caught; the second person must catch the first. And the person who fails must do N number of push-ups, squats, sit-ups, etc. where N is a large number. By construction one person must fail.

To this day, I can still remember every detail of that path up the bluff. I can remember sprinting up that hill, trying not to trip on the rugged terrain, focusing on this little patch of bushes that marked the end of the hill and thus salvation, hearing the pounding of my teammate’s footsteps behind me. The ears are remarkably bad at estimating the speed of an object behind you. In this case, it was impossible to judge if those pounding footsteps were approaching or retreating. And you dared not look back for fear of stumbling and losing precious seconds. All you could do was run as fast as you possibly could, knowing that you were being pursued but having no idea where your pursuer was.

So, how does this story relate to particle physics? Well, every time someone asks me about the interactions between ATLAS and CMS, the memory of this practice always inadvertently comes to my mind. Although it is rarely in the open, the fear of pursuit is always in the background. ATLAS and CMS both have the same experimental goals in mind: discovery of the Higgs, discovery of new physics. And they both want to be the first experiment to make those discoveries. It is not that as individuals people on ATLAS don’t associate or like people on CMS. There is plenty of interaction between the two experiments. But on the other hand, as an experiment there is the goal to be the first to discover new physics. And there is the fear that the other experiment is closer to making that discovery. But how much closer? That is the unknown.

This leads to the question, ‘Will the fear of pursuit, the pressure to be the first cause either ATLAS or CMS to publish before they are ready?’

Well…it probably wouldn’t be the first time something like that has happened in particle physics. Right now, though, we are all (ATLAS and CMS) focused more on just making it over the next hill—being ready to take data when the beam turns on. But who is to say what will happen when we have that almost-convincing Higgs plot in our hands? A peak in a mass plot that just might be evidence for supersymmetry, but might also be the miscalibration of our energy scale? And then you hear whispers in the CERN corridors that your rival is seeing “something” in their data. You hear your pursuer’s footsteps behind you and wonder if they are getting closer or further away.


Little Things

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

This week was our last “Global Run” for the year. We called it GREN (Global Run End of November) since it was only supposed to be a week, but was extended until the end of this first week of December.

During the GREN we include parts of the CMS detector that are located underground in the data taking stream. This includes the trigger electronics, the system that decides if an interesting event has taken place, and the system that I am most involved with. For the first time since we started these Global Runs (GREJ,GREA, GRES, etc.) my beloved (perhaps that is a bit too personal) Regional Calorimeter Trigger has joined in. And not only one or two crates, as is often the case when we test “slices” from the calorimeters (see previous posts), but the whole thing. Eighteen crates of our electronics receiving bits of data representing energy from the Hadron Calorimeter (HCAL) electronics (which gets its data from the central part of the HCAL) then processing it, and sending out the results to the Global Calorimeter Trigger, which sorts it and forwards the highest energies (including location in the HCAL) to the Global Trigger (GT), who finally combines it to find coincident signals in the top and bottom of the HCAL. (Phew!) If it then it passes the requirements set at the GT, i.e. energy greater than some value and the coincidence, the GT sends out a Level-1 Accept (L1A) to the systems that just sent it. This L1A tells the electronics that that was a good event (it is saved in a memory until told otherwise) and the data is retrieved and sent on to the High-Level Trigger, a computer farm, for processing. There we can refine the tracks in the muon chambers and tracker, the energy deposit in the calorimeters…for later analysis.

Our source of events is cosmic-ray muons (basically heavy electrons) caused by protons and nuclei from space interacting in the atmosphere. The higher energy muons can get through a lot of material relatively unscathed (to our detector underground), and we can use the light they leave in the calorimeter as the pass through as a way of detecting them. It’s exciting to see my system in its final form, working!

Of course, we are not ready yet. Though all the electronics are there, it is still somewhat rough. I still have to get another system into the mix, the electromagnetic calorimeter, who are busy commissioning right now. They have to be timed in with the HCAL. And we are using only one of the two spigots out of the RCT – one still lacks the connections out, and will need intense testing, very soon.

I am pretty happy about it. I will post a picture of one of our triggered events here soon!

One of my colleagues remarked that we were not “On the Critical Path”, which was an opinion I was glad to hear. This was the “little thing” that made my day. However, there is no time to sit back and relax yet!

A la prochain…


Tackling Easterbrook

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

I know I’m pretty late to the party on this, Chad Orzel having already tackled Gregg Easterbrook’s bizarre outburst just before the thanksgiving holiday. But there are connections here both to the LHC (my future), RHIC (my present), and US funding of both of these that justify some further discussion. Now, for those who don’t read ESPN’s website (hand raised!) people might wonder why RHIC and the LHC turned up there.I had seen Easterbrook’s writing over the years in the New Republic, New York Times, etc. so I was thrown (ha…) by his ESPN gig at first, until I checked out his Wikipedia entry.  I’m not sure he ever recovered from the Kill Bill incident (worth reading about).  So it seems he writes 4000 words about football every week for ESPN, but then gets another 10000 words to rant about whatever he feels like — strange. Anyway, the November 20 column (the one referenced above), buried a long rambling outburst about government funding of large science projects, the LHC and ILC pointed out in particular.

Scientists Discover That If You Slam Members of Congress Together Under Pressure, Money Is Released: High-energy particle accelerators cost taxpayers large sums but stand little chance of discovering anything of practical value. Promoted as quests for understanding of the universe, particle accelerators serve mostly as job programs for physicists, postdocs, and politically connected laboratories and contractors. Yes, abstract experiments of bygone days produced great discoveries, and yes, the quest for abstract knowledge is inherent to human nature. But most experiments from the bygone golden age of physics were done at private expense, not using tax subsidies. Albert Michelson and Edward Morley did not demand that Ohio taxpayers provide them with a decade of luxury while they refined their ideas.

and so on. If this guy had any idea how science worked, e.g. where the money comes from, or didn’t do this at the end of a football column, I might try and take him more seriously:

The National Science Foundation budget for the fiscal year that just ended contained about $135 million in tax dollars to operate the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory, a facility to which federal taxpayers forcibly have contributed about $1.1 billion total.

That’s the Department of Energy who funds these things, and this guy is nominally a reporter. Of facts. And I’m not sure why he indicts money for big science in particular, considering he’s not terribly interested in the outcome unless it would play well on ESPN. Maybe it’s his interest, nay, obsession, with a man-made Doomsday? About RHIC:

Privately funded atom-smashers would be perfectly fine — unless one inadvertently transforms the Earth into “an inert hyperdense sphere about 100 meters across,” as this book by British astronomer Martin Rees claims is possible.

And about LHC doing for European science what he thinks the ILC will do for the US:

The superconducting magnets of Europe’s 17-mile-long Large Hadron Collider, near Lake Geneva, are scheduled to turn on in 2008, and we can hope that a sizable chunk of the France-Switzerland border does not dematerialize at that instant…Set aside whether $15 billion should forcibly be removed from taxpayers’ pockets in order to cause proton beams to move a bit faster. Are we really sure it is history’s greatest idea to be re-creating the conditions that existed when the universe exploded?

I don’t mind people questioning the purpose and outcome of the upcoming generation of megascience projects. I do mind the scaremongering which now seems to accompany every big machine (and always has, it seems — more on this later). For quite a while now, I’ve been suspecting that doomsday is less of a scientific concern for various observers, than an efficient way for nominally-concerned morally-driven people (Rees and Posner among them) to get wide public attention for their books, and for reporters like Easterbrook, farther down the food-chain, to fill a few gripping paragraphs in Wired Magazine. I mention Rees and Posner in particular since they are both highly credible public intellectuals, but ones who made these particular arguments based on what other people were thinking and saying — and ignoring any and all relevant scientific information which may have been gained in the meantime. Has either Rees or Posner considered updating their thinking after 7 years of perfectly safe RHIC operations? I’ve made this argument on TV — ok, Voice of America TV — but I’m sure now that I and others will have to make it again.Whether or not one agrees with the aims, or even the methods or cost, of scientific endeavors, mere appeals to common sense, and citing rapidly-outdating literature, just don’t cut it anymore. And even if you are sure that they should, I’m sure can find far, far more deadly and expensive things to worry about well before the LHC turns on.


Another Tragic Loss

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

It has been a very tragic past few weeks for the high-energy physics community. First we lost Michael Schmidt and now we lost six members of our community to the tragic plane crash in Turkey.

It is with deep sorrow that I have to inform you of the tragic death of some of our Turkish colleagues in the recent plane crash in Turkey. Professor Engin Arik, Engin Abat and Berkol Dogan from Bogazici University Istanbul perished in the accident, as well as three CAST colleagues from Dogus University travelling with them. They were on their way to a workshop for the design and planning of a Turkish accelerator complex.

Engin Arik pioneered the Turkish involvement in ATLAS, and she has motivated generations of young people to work with us in ATLAS, the TRT and DAQ. Engin Abat was with us this summer as a young MSc student. Engin Arik had worked at CERN since a long time in various experiments, having been a strong supporter of Turkish HEP at CERN and ATLAS.

In this dark moment our thoughts are with the families, colleagues and friends of the victims. In the name of the Collaboration I would like to express to our Turkish friends our sincere sympathy and condolences.

Peter Jenni
On behalf of the ATLAS Collaboration

I knew Engin Arik by her good reputation only. She was an active member of the ATLAS women’s group. Within that group she was known for being an endless source of inspiration, a great leader and a pioneer for promoting women in science as well as forwarding science in Turkey.

A fellow member of the women’s group, Christine Kourkoumelis, best eulogizes Engin’s impact on this field and the people in it.

Engin was a very dear friend of mine (actually I was the one who introduced her to the women’s group of ATLAS and she was eager to participate from the very beginning).

Me being Greek and Engin being Turkish was a good example how friendship can dissolve all nationalist prejudices. Together with Engin we participated in the first IUPAP Women in Physics Conference in Paris 2002 and tried to push the recognition of women scientists in the Balkan scene, as well. Engin inspired the research ideals in a large number of young girls and unfortunately, as you know, one of them died with her. She was also an ideal example of the “twin carrier “, being married to a physicist and pushing her career together with him in parallel routes. She also had two beautiful children and two grandchildren.