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Archive for March, 2009

Welcome

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

This is the first time I blog and I expect it to be a very enjoyable experience, for me and – hopefully – for the reader! While thinking of the first post, I recalled a “colloquium” held at CERN  a couple of weeks ago. (For Quantum Diaries new comers, CERN is the world’s largest particle physics laboratory. Located at the border of Switzerland and France, it hosts particle accelerators and was the site of several milestone discoveries in our field.) The invited speaker was the Intel CEO. Regardless his familiarity with high tech., he did not hide deep fascination when exposed to the technological challenge we are facing to design, build, commission, operate, and maintain our instruments.

The idea of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), began in the early 1980s while Spring 1992 marked the real beginning.  The machine was finally turned on September 10th 2009, but activities had to be interrupted soon after due to an electrical failure. Operations will resume in late 2009. But, what is the LHC ?

The LHC accelerator

The LHC accelerator

It is a circular particle accelerator sitting 100 m underground with a circumference of 27 km. At full power, trillions of protons will race around the LHC accelerator ring 11245 times a second, traveling at 99.99% the speed of light. Two beams of protons will each travel at a maximum energy of 7 TeV (tera-electronvolt), corresponding to head-to-head collisions of 14 TeV. Altogether some 600 million collisions will take place every second. The LHC is the emptiest space in the Solar System. To avoid colliding with gas molecules inside the accelerator, the beams of particles travel in an ultra-high vacuum pipe with a pressure ten times less than the pressure on the Moon. The LHC is a machine of extreme hot and cold. When two beams of protons collide, they will generate temperatures more than 100 000 times hotter than the heart of the Sun, concentrated within a minuscule space. By contrast the LHC is kept a the temperature of -271.3C (1.9 K), even colder than outer space.  The number talks by themselves: the LHC is one of the greatest endeavour in science!

Come and visit CERN, if you can. You will have a unique opportunity before the door is shut for the years to come.  Otherwise, you can learn more at http://cdsmedia.cern.ch/img/CERN-Brochure-2008-001-Eng.pdf. This gigantic adventure is however just the beginning. When the protons collide, they fragment into constituents which subsequently can combine to form new particles. This “event” is recorded by detectors sitting along the ring. Detectors to come in the next posts.

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I’m sitting at the gate in Geneva Aeroport waiting for my flight home and I am suddenly struck by how small the world is when you can fly.

The view from above Geneva this morning. I wanted to get the mountains in but weather did not permit.
The view from above Geneva this morning. I wanted to get the mountains in but weather did not permit.

The delicious meal on thursday night at Restaurant 2, CERN marked the end of ALICE week for most of us, and the room was still buzzing with discussion long after the fantastic chocolate desserts had been polished off (I really must learn the recipe for those chocolate cups with vanilla custard!). Groups debated over physics that came up in the week. Old friends reminisced and delighted in reunions while many new acquaintances were made. Long-standing and experienced physicists left us in awe with anecdotes. Several languages resonated across the tables at once.

Our table had a mixture of Slovak, French and English, with a little Italian and Spanish thrown in. Thoughts on life, snippets of history, political opinions, travel stories and experiences were passed around along with the wine.

Eventually, the ALICE CERN team leader stood to say a few words. The last of them were, “Please try not to spend SO long in your offices once you return to them this evening.” He was, of course, joking, but he highlighted the mad and inescapable truth about particle physicists – we love our work. We really love it. It often becomes so much a part of us that we can’t leave it alone. Many physicists continue to play an active role in research long after retiring. In all our differences, we have in common those days where an unresolved problem is like a thirst, and we put the rest of our lives on hold until we can quench it. We share the need for answers, the need to understand.

It’s been over 2 months since I was last UK and I miss my home, my boyfriend and my family so much, but I am lucky that the journey home is short for me. Many of my colleagues will be returning home this weekend and most will have much further to travel. However, in my opinion, those of us who get the chance to spend substantial time working here are exceptionally lucky. We are right at the heart of watching a mind-bogglingly ambitious project come into fruition, like-minded people brought together from all over the globe by a unified goal. For us the world is so much smaller, because CERN has become one more place to feel totally at home.

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Downhill

Saturday, March 28th, 2009
Lenggries, Germany on a beatiful winter day in late March.

Lenggries, Germany on a beautiful winter day in late March.

Even scientists need a break from work, all the more so after almost two weeks of conferences and meetings in Tsukuba, Japan. And skiing is one of my favorite pass-times in the winter.

One of the advantages of jetlag from the trip back is that getting up early seems like no big deal on Sunday, after arriving Saturday night. Still, I could not convince my wife to get up at 6 am, so we only went for half a day of skiing in Lenggries instead of a full day trip to one of the bigger areas in Austria. The weather was perfect, with lots of sun and temperatures a few degrees above freezing. Unusually for this time of the year, there is still a lot of snow also in the lower regions of the Alps, doesn’t feel like a lot of global warming right now.

SkiingLenggries1

Me on the slope

Lenggries is a small ski resort southeast of Munich, about one hour from where we live. While this is not my favorite place to go skiing, it is extremely convenient, and definitely good enough for half a day. And of course the location is somewhat secondary when I’m up to something as serious as skiing  😉

It was a great day, and probably the last skiing of the season. It was pleasant to finish the skiing season on a positive note, after a rather scary crash in January, where I broke both of my ski poles and bruised my knee, which kept me from skiing for a whole month on doctors orders. Anyway, you got to get right back on the horse (or the Atomic SL12 Slalom Race Carvers, for that matter) that threw you off, as soon as the doctor lets you…

Even though I really like winter and skiing in particular, now I’m ready for warmer weather. I already had a first glimpse of that in Japan a week ago, and the weather report says spring will arrive in Germany sometime next week… finally!

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Newcomer

Friday, March 27th, 2009
DESY back entrance

DESY back entrance

Welcome all to this round of quantum diaries and to my blog in particular! I view this as rather an interesting experiment as I’m not really sure what I will write about. So lets say it will be an emergent phenomenon.

Since I am still a relative newcomer at DESY (I have actually been here over 6 months, but it still feels new to me) then DESY will be my first subject. It seems appropriate as snow flakes drift past the window to put up a wintry picture of the “back” entrance. Opposite DESY is the refreshing Altonaer Volkspark and DESY itself has a surprising amount of wildlife including pheasants, heron and tortoises!

This is my first time working long term at a Laboratory (as opposed to a university without accelerators) and its a real joy to be able to walk from my desk and computer simulations, next door to the test beam and real experiments. But more on the testbeam in a forthcoming entry.

We just began a series of events marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of DESY, and so its seems appropriate to mention one noteworthy physics event that happened here. DESY is where the gluon was discovered by the Mark-J experiment in PETRA (Positron-Electron Tandem-Ring Facility) in 1979. I’ve reproduced a plot shown by Symmetry magazine (who acknowledged physicist Sau Lan Wu). It shows the three jet signature of the two quarks and a gluon, and the question for the day is, can we say which jet is the gluon?

TASSO 3-Jet event

TASSO 3-Jet event

In 1990 PETRA went on to serve as a pre-accelerator for the HERA (Hadron-Electron Ring Facility) accelerator which stands sadly quiet now since its shutdown in 2007 after a distinguished 17 years of operation (though data analysis is still ongoing). However there is actually a lot of construction going on for the exciting XFEL (European X-ray Free Electron Laser) project.

The PETRA ring itself is being converted into a synchrotron and this time lapse footage shows the inner construction of the experimental hall. I love that footage – its like something out of Aliens. I particularly feel for the guy at the end rolling out the top layer of the floor by himself! I’m reminded of the quote:

“Who built Thebes of the seven gates? In the books you will find the names of kings. Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock?”
Brecht, Questions from a Worker who Reads, 1935

My work at DESY is within the Lepton Collider Research (FLC in German) group. FLC is involved in research towards the International Linear Collider (ILC). The group is busy preparing a bid for one of the future detectors for this facility. Within FLC, I work in quite a few areas including polarimetry, detector background studies and theoretical topics in Supersymmetry and Quantum Electrodynamics. I plan to describe each of these, in time and in more detail, in upcoming posts.

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Greetings from Fermilab

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Hi everyone, and welcome to my new blog on Quantum Diaries!  As with many things, getting started feels like the hardest part as there are so many things to write about and one is never sure where to begin.

It seems blogs are everywhere these days. Google has a search tab dedicated to finding blogs and will uncover one on just about any subject you can imagine.  I personally read several blogs maintained by close friends who are off on an adventure of some sort in the world.   This is my first venture into the world of blogging as author.

complete_tp_wideband1

The assembled MINERvA prototype detector on the surface at Fermilab. The hanging paddles act as a "trigger" signaling when invisible cosmic rays are passing trough the detector.

My goal is to share about my experiences as a neutrino physicist working at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, IL. The main content will, therefore, be about current research efforts in high energy particle physics – what are some of the open questions and what experiments are being done to search for answers?  Hopefully it will give the Reader a sense of what it is like to do this type of research.  I’m sure there will be posts along the way that don’t really touch on physics as well since, like anyone, I have a variety of interests beyond my work.

It’s actually a very exciting time for the experiment which I am currently working on, called MINERvA (as in the Roman goddess).  MINERvA is a new experiment at the lab designed to study how neutrinos interact with other matter better than any experiment to come before.  Since I started last summer, the detector has gone from a lot of parts and a good plan to something that can actually see fundamental particles completely invisible to our eyes.   The past few months have involved much hard work by many people on what we call “commissioning” the new detector – essentially doing very detailed studies of its performance to be sure it is working like we expected.

A cosmic ray muon passing through the MINERvA detector as seen in the reconstructed data from our electronics.

A cosmic ray muon passing through the MINERvA detector as seen in the reconstructed data from our electronics.

We do this by taking advantage of something nature provides us for free – cosmic rays. Particles from outer space interacting in the amosphere produce energetic charged particles which are bombarding the surface constantly, including our detector – how convienent!  One type of cosmic ray is the muon (the big sister of the electron) and they look very distinctive in our detector.  The center part of the detector shown in the picture above has regions made of a plastic where light is produced when a charged muon passes through.  The electronic instruments on the top of the detector can “see” this light and read it out very quickly.  When we assemble (very carefully!) the signals from all of the electronics channels (there are 64 on each circuit board you can see, so 6784 all together) we can see very clearly the “invisible” muon passing through, as in the event display on the left.  We recorded many thousands of muon events like this over several weeks to test our new detector.

Satisfied with this testing, we are now disassembling the entire thing (after all that hard work?) to move it into the path of the extremely intense neutrino beam created here at Fermilab, called NuMI.  The trick is that the beam path is in a large cavern 300 ft underground, so it must be moved in pieces so it can be carefully lowered down a long shaft and reassembled underground.  I will be working long shifts underground on Monday and Tuesday of next week operating the computers and electronics of the detector and basically commissioning it all over again.  I’ll be sure to post new pictures next week.  And with any luck, by the middle of the week we will see the first evidence of a neutrino interacting within our detector!!  Hmmmm, maybe after the weekend I’ll even explain why in the world someone would want to this 🙂  But for now I have to get going because, if you read my bio, then you know that my defending national champion alma mater is playing in the NCAA sweet sixteen in an hour and a half – Go ‘Hawks!

The underground cavern at Fermilab looking back in the direction of the neutrino source.

The underground cavern at Fermilab looking back in the direction of the neutrino source.

The heavy steel frame patiently waiting the hanging of the MINERvA detector very soon!

The heavy steel frame patiently waiting the hanging of the MINERvA detector very soon!

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The Two-Body Problem

Friday, March 27th, 2009

The two-body problem is often encountered in physics; one example is two gravitating objects, each on a trajectory influenced by the force from the other object. A common way to deal with the problem is to work with an “equivalent” system where one object is stationary and the other orbits. Another two-body problem is one not unique to physics but common in all of academia: the dual-career academic couple.

Many physicists – myself, friends, colleagues – are in a relationship with another physicist. While this is an issue that has mostly been analyzed anecdotally, I recently discovered an extended study on the issue. The Stanford University Clayman Institute for Gender Research is hosting a conference on Dual-Career Academic Couples: Strategies and Opportunities and have a link to a study done in 2008. This 108-page long study has statistics from “9,043 Full-Time Faculty from 13 Leading Research Universities”, which greatly improves what I know from the 20 or so physics couples I personally know. It turns out my colleagues aren’t abnormal: 36% of the faculty studied have an academic partner.

Tom and I, a typical physics couple

Tom and I, a typical physics couple


The dual-academic couple faces greater challenges than most couples, even when both partners work. There are many institutional moves in an academic career, some with relatively little flexibility. While Tom and I are the same year in graduate school, we may graduate years apart. The first one of us to graduate will likely be unable to find a (suitable) post-doc position within commuting distance. Post-docs last a varying number of years – usually 1 to 5 – so there will be no certainty that the second one will graduate before the first’s post-doc is done.

Even if we manage to synch our post-doc locations, faculty positions searches pose the greatest challenge. Many faculty opening are very specific; the department may not just be looking for a particle physicist, but someone working on a particular experiment or with very specific experience (electronics or cryogenics, for instance). The number of qualified candidates seems larger than the number of open positions – especially in difficulty economic times – so getting any offer is great. There are different ways that dual-academic couples navigate this – which the report discusses – which includes negotiating a joint-hire, finding jobs at nearby institutions, or simply living apart.

The report is fairly dense, but there are many interesting take-aways:

  1. Women are more likely than men to have an academic parter (40%, compared to 34%), which varies by field. Women in the natural sciences are most likely (48%) to have an academic partner, 83% of whom have partners also in the natural sciences.
  2. In many fields over 50% of academic couples are in the same department
  3. Women are more likely to view both their and their partner’s careers as equally important, even if the woman is at the highest ranks of faculty.

Perhaps what I find the most interesting is that 28% of female faculty in physics have a partner who is also a physicist. That number is only 11% for men. Addressing academic couples can really improve the number of women in fields like physics, and it will certainly improve the quality of life for the men involved too.

Source: L. Schiebinger, A. Henderson, S. Gilmartin, Dual-Career Academic Couples: What Universities Need to Know (PDF) (Stanford: Clayman Institute, 2008).

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One of my favorite things about moving to CERN two years ago was being able to work inside the ATLAS detector while it was still being constructed. The first time I went down to see the detector in 2006, I was on an official tour and could only walk around the outside of it. When I returned as a postdoc in 2007, I got to wear a real helmet with a headlamp and climb ladders into the detector itself. I don’t think I stopped smiling the whole day. It was hot down there in the summer, and loud, and sometimes dim in the place where you wished there was more light (hence the headlamp), but I had a lot of fun being there.

inside ATLAS

When I recently discovered Peter McCready’s website with images of the ATLAS cavern, the thing that impressed me most was the sound associated with the images. It’s not much, but the background noise of clanking and hammering really took me back to the days I spent there. On his site, you, too, can visit the ATLAS cavern and hear the sounds of the work being done. Use your mouse to look around, as though you are turning your head left, right, up or down.  You can also look down the length of the Large Hadron Collider tunnel.  In one image of the CMS detector, you can see the pipe that the LHC beam will go through, as though it is above your head!  You can also click to the next image using the black arrows to the left and right to see more of CMS, ATLAS, and the LHC.

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Japan on the globe

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Welcome to my page!!

I hope you will enjoy reading the life of a Japanese physicist.
map4I put the map of the world. Can you find Japan? I think people from Euope and from the U.S.A.  have strange feeling with this map, because the view is so different from them. The Pacific Ocean is drawn in the center of the map! This is an ordinary map to be used in Japan. As you see, Japan is located in the so called far-east region on the globe.

Japan is one of the first countries to get morning in the world. In the 7th century, we already recognized Japan was the country rising of the sun and the big country China beyond the western sea was one of sunset. The emperor in China disliked much this expression, of cource. We call our country ‘Nihon’ in Japanese, of which literal meaning is ‘rising of the sun’. I think Japan has originated with ‘Nihon’ (-> ‘Nippon’ -> ‘Jippon’ ->Jepang’ ->’Japan’).

Anyway, Japan has such a long history because we are located at the edge and also enough isolated from the continent by the sea.  Various culture were introduced through Korea and China, for example, Chinese characters and Buddhism, so on. Simultaneously, thanks to this location, we could easily close our country to block the effect out from other countries and to grow up our own culture. The last opening of our country was the end of ‘Shougun(Edo)’ era in 19th century after 260 years closing. Japanese liked to follow the culture of Europe as soon as possible. Physics was also introduced at that time.

In Shougun era, Japanese already had skill of astronomical observation and made a map of Japan in very precise accuracy. But such a concept of the motion of equation was introduced just 150 years ago. Our Japanese is still very young on physics, when we compare with the introduction of Buddhism in the 6th century. On the other hand, if Galileo Galilei is considered as one of fathers of the modern physics, Europe has more than 300-year-old history. I am very interested in why physics was born in Europe.

ようこそ!これから日本の物理学者の日常をつづっていきますね。

まず世界地図を載せてみました。どこが日本かわかります?きっと、ヨーロッパやアメリカの人は
この地図を見て奇妙に思うことでしょう。というのも、この地図では太平洋が地図の真ん中にきてい
ますから。これが日本でふつう使われている地図です。ご存じのように、日本は地球の
「極東」と呼ばれる地域にありますが、これは欧米の地図では、本当に右端の東の端っこに描かれて
いるからですね。

日本は世界の中で最初に朝を迎える国の一つです。既に7世紀のころに、日本人は自分の国が
「日出る国」ということを知っていて、日本海の向こうの中国のことを「日の没する国」と呼ん
だりしていました。もちろん中国の皇帝はこの呼び方をきらいました。英語では日本をJapanと呼
びますが、これは、「ニホン」→「ニッポン」→「ジッポン(日本の中国語読み)→「ジパング」
→「ジャパン」になったという説があります。

まあ、ともかく日本がこれだけ長い歴史を保てた理由には、東の端で、大陸からも海で十分に離れ
ていたという地の利が大きかったと思います。漢字や仏教や、ものつくりなど多くの文化・文明が
韓国や中国を通してやってきたわけですが、地の利のおかげで簡単に国を閉ざすことができ、独自
の文化を育むことができたわけです。最後に国を開いたのは、260年間国を閉ざした後の、19世紀終わ
りの「将軍の時代(江戸時代)」の最後でした。国を開いたのち、日本人は欧米の文明をはやく取
り込もうとし、物理学もその一環として入ってきました。

既に江戸時代には、天文観測の十分な技術や、精巧な日本地図をつくるということができましたが、
運動方程式のような概念は150年前にようやく知ることになったのです。仏教が6世紀に導入されたの
と比べて、物理学に取り組んだ年月はまだまだです。一方、ガリレオ・ガリレイを近代物理学の父の
一人と考えたとき、ヨーロッパは物理学に取り組んで、300年となっています。ヨーロッパでなぜ物理
学が生まれたのかにとても興味があります。

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Spring Changes

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Welcome! Spring has brought with it numerous changes, including this blog. I hope to share the interesting aspects of my life over the next few weeks, though I am somewhat unsure what they will be. That is what makes them interesting, right?

The first change is that I’m not currently in New Mexico at my experiment. I was excited for my first trip to the salt mine since last October, but experimental delays have thwarted me (again). I hope to post soon about the salt mine – including pixelated cell phone pictures – but there won’t be any “live from 2000 ft underground” posts anytime soon! I was supposed to go and take two back-to-back shifts, each lasting 9 days. During a shift I’d spent about 8 hours underground getting different systems of our experiment running and doing tests. This was supposed to be “commissioning”, where we set up a schedule ahead of time and get everything running. Normally people are working on it, but doing smaller tasks and not highly coordinated full system tests. Well, we found some early obstacles and stopped early – which can always be expected. I likely won’t be traveling there for some time since I’m not one of the experts on any of the systems that have been installed and I’m involved in numerous California based aspects of the experiment.

Both Halves of the EXO-200 TPC

Both Halves of the EXO-200 TPC


I’m in the middle of an interesting change regarding the status of the EXO detector. I’ve been involved in the final assembly (occurring in a clean room at Stanford University) for the past few weeks, but we’re (basically) done!  The next step is doing as much testing as possible while the detector is here, before we ship it to WIPP.  We’ll connect the detector to the electronics set-up and do noise studies and try to debug any problems.  We will be welding the vessel closed that contains the detector before we ship to WIPP, so we will only be able to use external measurements to make sure it arrived ok. I’m back up at SLAC more, now that the majority of the assembly is done, but I’ll be back on campus to help with setting up the electronics and some of the testing. It is hard to get back into the habit of coming up and working at SLAC when it feels like I’ve been gone for months.
The Vessel the detector goes in, attached to cryostat door

The Vessel the detector goes in, attached to cryostat door



The biggest change has yet to come: teaching. The Stanford Physics program has a teaching requirement (3 quarters) for the PhD. This is the only requirement I am behind on at all. Up to this point I haven’t been able to teach either because of anticipated travel or because I had funding and there were too many people who needed to teach as a source of funding. This quarter I will be a lab TA for Physics 67, which is an introduction to lab techniques and data analysis for physics majors. The majority of TA’s end up leading lab or discussion sections for the physics classes for pre-med students, so my assignment is exciting. I’ll get to interact with physics undergraduates, which I’m really looking forward to. I’m excited about the course content; it’s the closest class at Stanford to my favorite physics class at MIT. Working with lab equipment and data analysis tools is certainly easier for me than remember E&M or Quantum equations, so this class is more my strength than many others. I’ll likely still have a lot to learn, but it will do me a lot of good to get better at statistics and learn more analysis techniques. I’m sure I’ll be blogging about teaching a lot – hopefully not about how bad I am at it!

Of course, spring also brings beautiful weather with it. I’m getting out and biking more, which feels great. On days when I am at SLAC it is fairly easy to spend lunch biking the Portola Loop or down Cañada Rd. The only downside I can think of is that as it gets hotter, it is far less pleasant to crank up the oven for a batch of cookies or have a pot of Indian food cooking for hours. It usually doesn’t get too hot here, so I likely have another month or two of quality cookie making.

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Hola Todos!

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Hi there and welcome to my first post as part of the Quantum Diaries. I had to be careful spelling that last word there as, well, the Quantum Dairies would be something completely different altogether.

So the content of these blogs can be anything whatsoever, including the daily goings-on in the lives of the physicists. However it just so happens that what I am doing right now, and probably will be doing for the next 72 hours until I drop, is physics. I’m about to ‘receive beam’ to my DRAGON facility here at TRIUMF, in order to do a series of calibration runs and to test a new ‘Data Acquisition System’ (big computer and lots of spaghetti wires that helps us collect data from the experiment and eventually, to visualize it). It is kind of like the “calm before the storm” in a way, for a couple of reasons.

Spaghetti trigger logic and DAQ - a mix of old and new

Spaghetti trigger logic and DAQ - a mix of old and new

Firstly – we are short staffed due to illness and unavailability because this is simply a test run, and therefore I am presently alone, although reinforcements are not long away. Secondly, the Gremlins always appear on a first run of the year, much of the equipment having been powered down (yes we physicists do care about energy conservation, in more ways than one) over the winter break and it is virtually guaranteed that over 50% of the stuff won’t work first time! All this means I’m going to be extremely busy indeed for the next 24 hours. This also means pizza delivery, although unfortunately only Dominos deliver this far out to the lab and not Nat’s, the best pizza joint in Vancouver. Hey, maybe I can get some ad revenue from this 😉

We have to get these tests done in preparation for a ‘Radioactive Beam’ measurement in mid-may, which I am hoping to blog about as it will be the first time ever this particular experiment has ever been done. To recap, I am a nuclear physicist. Technically nuclei are particles I know, but nonetheless I would not call myself a ‘particle physicist’ since that usually implies people from the high energy physics community. Not that I have anything against them of course 😉 The field I work in is commonly called ‘Nuclear Astrophysics’, and in a nutshell, we measure nuclear reaction strengths that occur in both regular and exotic stars, including the exploding ones (supernovae). The whole point is to explain the observational data about stars that we actually see, not being able to reach out and touch a star. So we kind of make them in the lab, or at least a microscopic part of them anyway.

More spaghetti

More spaghetti

The other noteworthy (at least for me) thing that happened today is that my iphone developed the dreaded ‘dead strip’ – a region of the touchscreen that becomes desensitized and effectively renders the phone useless. I thus have an appointment later today where hopefully they’ll just give me a brand new one and I can start doing all that Twitter update stuff again and check my emails while at the pub.

Well I guess that’s all for now. Until next time….

 

 

The DRAGON Group circa 2006

The DRAGON Group circa 2006

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