I suppose it would be fair to say that I have mused long and hard about what to put in this, my first blog posting
for Quantum Diaries. It seems the norm is to go for the mixture between Oscar acceptance speech (“It’s an honour
and privilege to receive this opportunity etc etc”) and extended biography (“I was born in a small village and started
to study physics from the age of two in my father’s woodshed etc etc”). This is not to knock my now fellow Diarists, on the contrary, it is more to make the point that it is hard to gauge what readers of this particular blog would care to see. Given that I am blind, in a sense, to the audience there is no clear beginning to the message. Hopefully over the coming weeks and months my experience with this interface to the world will develop and I’ll be able to give a reader friendly, perhaps even mildly entertaining, expose on life at CERN, as a physicist working on the LHC, and various ways in which this broadens and impacts ones life. However, until such glorious moments arrive, I will sit here struggling for a suitable opening message.
Well let’s see, what do I plan to include in this blog? To begin with I imagine a few stories and anecdotes to appear in due time. I work for SLAC, in Stanford, California, although I’m not American, and am based at CERN full time. The astute among you will have spotted the “u” I strategically placed in the spelling of “honour”, the telltale sign of my Britishness (Englishness in my particular case). Coupled with working for one laboratory while being based at a different one, I experience the added complication of living and working in different countries: France and Switzerland in my case. If it sounds confusing, that’s because it is, although my case is not an uncommon one for CERN residents. Certain nuances like this add to the diversity and richness of the experience of working at CERN. From many points of view other than simply a scientific one CERN is a fascinating place, whether one cases the joint anthropologically, socially, or from the standpoint of work ethics (many researchers here tend to put in long hours) the molds are generally at the very least bent, in the majority of cases broken and for some outliers the molds are reinvented. I will not spoil this random introduction with a “for instance”, those will appear in due time, but there are a great number of things considered normal to a working physicist that most other people may think are just insane.
In these days where everyone knows what a Higgs boson is, and your bus driver or postman know more about the LHC schedule than you and your fellow physicists do (the LHC is moving closer to having first colliding beams with repairs progressing smoothly), high energy physics isn’t on the fringes of society anymore. Sites such as interactions.org and symmetrymagazine.org provide accessible high energy physics information to the reasonably informed, but not necessarily expert, reader. Particle Physics is the new hot topic at the movies or on television and everyone is scrambling it seems to include any kind of geeky-physics-nerd-type character into whatever they can. This is a good thing for the field, inspiring the minions of future discoveries and new underground particle revolutionaries by exposing them to the particle zoo at an early age. But also, perhaps, it impacts the ways in which we wish to put across a message of science and ‘life at the labs’ to a broader community. Through these blogs we can let people know of the realities of life as a physicist and not just the broader picture of the questions that the field is trying to answer. Perhaps though, the latter is a bit more exciting to read about than the former, although that depends on the life of the physicist in question!