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Edgar Carrera | USLHC | USA

View Blog | Read Bio

Learning at CMS

Humans are very curious by nature; we just love to learn.  Maybe that’s what makes us the most successful mammals on earth.  This need to learn is a common factor among all of us, with no exceptions.  Physicist (scientist), however, are particularly curious and avid of knowledge, and maybe that is why we like what we do. A big plus of our job is that we rarely do the same thing every day.  There is always something new to learn, a new idea to develop, new code to implement, etc. We are constantly doing things that no one has ever done before!

I took a block of 4  day data acquisition (DAQ) shifts during the last weekend (Thu-Sat) at CMS point 5 (where all the action happens).  I was lucky to have a trainee who is also a good friend of mine.  My mission was to prepare him to take DAQ shifts by himself and be able to run the whole CMS experiment (that’s what DAQ shifters do, and that’s why it is so much fun).

My friend, as all of us, had to read and study the documentation about how to run the different applications that are used to run the experiment.  Being able to comprehend the data flow, understand how the sub-detectors interconnect , and quickly identify potential problems are tasks that require some training and practice.  The good side is that we do love to do this; every day is a learning experience.

As the LHC has been playing with the beams (injection, tuning, dumping, beta beats, optics, etc, etc) in order to prepare for energy ramp-up, there were many occasions for my friend to learn and adapt to being a DAQ shifter.  He quickly picked up the basics on how to incorporate or drop sub-detectors in/from the CMS run; how to read and understand the no-less-than 7 monitors (3 keyboards) used for the DAQ system; how to interpret the big screens that announce the current LHC and CMS conditions; how to start, end, pause a CMS run; how to load the appropiate conditions to run a cosmic run, splash events, circulating beams (and eventually collisions); how to issue resynch signals to the different components; how to debug more complicated problems like loss of synch and back-pressure (data flow stuck); and most importantly, become confident and comfortable to know that a 2+ billion dollars experiment like CMS is, in great part, in his hands while driving the DAQ.

Despite him being an experienced professional physicist, I can’t avoid being impressed of how, in general, we humans learn.  It is a marvelous thing, an amazing skill to have.  It propels great things like this experiment, it is so much fun, but it also comes with a great deal of responsibility.

Edgar F. Carrera (Boston University)


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6 Responses to “Learning at CMS”

  1. Harbles says:

    Complex knowledge is a very number of small simple ideas considered together. Learning is amazing.
    If I may ask a question of a CMS shifter? Like the op-vistars discussed on a previous blog entry by Mike Anderson the CMS has displays available on CMSTV which has a huge amount of information being displayed on several channels the user can select by clicking on the small green options at the top of the page.
    My question is about this page;

    Every alternate refresh the lhc_1 portion is replaced by a L1 scalers pane. Is this screen available separately as the other items on CMSTV are? I’ve looked around on CMSTV and elsewhere to no avail.
    Thanks for letting the whole world peer over your shoulder while you work!

  2. Jeff Mahr says:

    As a biologist (and avid reader of what you magicians are up to) I must ask: what is your measure when you call humans “the most successful mammals on earth”? Please note that I do not necessarily disagree with you; its always interesting to me to hear what people think about this.
    Thanks for the posts!

  3. Hi Harbles,

    I guess they don’t make that particular page available. You might have to have permissions to see it.

  4. Hi Jeff,

    It was interesting to me that this line I wrote about humans being the most successful mammals on Earth drew more attention than the actual point of the article. I got many comments on the non-official facebook mirror of this blog! Here I copy my reply to some of the comments:

    “….However, now that I read the article again, it is interesting to note that it does sound a little arrogant. That was, of course, not the point of the blog entry, neither it was claiming truths about evolution (that’s not my field of expertise); but I guess that’s part of the fun of writing and trying to communicate what we do. And, curiously, I am *learning*, now that I read the comments of my readers, to pay more attention to the tone of my writing ;-) Thanks for reading!!”

    Even though I am very tempted to engage on debates about evolution (I love the subject), I will not do this here as it is not the right forum. All I am going to say is that I should have said “one of the most successful mammals…”.

    As a physicist it is inevitable that I try to think always in terms of evolution. After all, what we do in particle physics is trying to understand the very beginning of it, of all. :-)

  5. josch222 says:

    Hi Harbles,
    don’t know about other browsers but Opera has a feature
    for automatic reload in adjustable intervals.
    Simply right-click at an open web-page and select
    the feature automatic reload or the like (I don’t have the english version).
    You will notice that this feature is not available when a picture is loaded, as in your 2nd link. But there is a simple trick: Open any static web-page you like, apply the automatic reload to it and then copy the URL to the address line of the open tab and hit enter.

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