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)