It’s been a busy couple of weeks with many more highs than lows. If you’re reading this you probably know already of the recent successes of the LHC, from first beam, to first collisions, to acceleration. This last weekend won’t have seen the LHC hit the headlines in the popular press as much as others but rest assured this was a big one. What was achieved throughout the last weekend was that the LHC, and the experiments who benefit from it’s proton collisions, ran stably with full detectors turned on. In the case of ATLAS that means we turned on the pixel detector for the first time with beam. You might be thinking something along the lines of “well what’s the big deal, haven’t the other parts of the detector been running for weeks, doesn’t that just mean you’re behind schedule or something?” but the reality of the situation is that the innermost detectors of these big experiments need to be treated very carefully while the beams are in their commissioning phase. All it would take is a stray beam or two inconveniently directed into those sensitive beauties to wreak havoc with years of patient work put in my many people. Anyway, this is an excitable digression, I’m on shift RIGHT NOW and we have BEAM RIGHT NOW so you’ll have to forgive me if I’m a bit sidetracked.
What I wanted to put across with this post is something else that has occurred at CERN in the last 6 weeks or so and that is the clear and collective change of mood. You are no doubt aware of the major accident that happened last September very soon after the LHC turned on for the first time. During the 14 months that followed the schedule of many students has slipped a year, some funding agencies have lost a little faith or belief in the LHC programme, which has become the butt of some jokes, quips and commentaries in the press. It became very evident as 2009 wore on that the mood at CERN was slipping. Positivism was draining away and many people were clearly becoming, shall we say less than motivated with their work. This is understandable. But through this all people were still hoping that the (re-)turn-on of the LHC would be a smooth and successful period that would give us the promise of data to come.
In hindsight the timing of the LHC turn-on has been perfect, with stable beams and some useful data being collected before everyone will take a well earned break for Christmas. In this way, the staff will all return in the New Year ready for the challenge ahead after pushing hard for a few weeks before the holidays. Had the start-up been delayed a few weeks it would have slipped into the New Year and left everyone feeling rather deflated while pushing their Christmas dinner around their plates, pondering their futures.
CERN these days is a buoyant, happy place. People are excited to be on shift, excited to be at work, and eager to be involved. Personally I think this excitement will be building and continuing for some time yet and throughout 2010 when we start to get “real” first data. It serves to remind you just how much everyone cares about what they do and how much the success of the LHC means to people, professionally, and personally.