I’m now back home after spending about a month at CERN. I was trying to think of how to describe a trip to CERN. They’re usually right at the board line between manageable and overwhelming. There’s always someone you run into whom you should speak to about something. Sometimes it’s a someone from another institute who’d benefit from your expertise on a given topic. Sometimes it’s someone who has expertise on a topic you’d benefit from. Sometimes it’s someone you’re working with on an analysis with a group of people and you need to figure out the best way to proceed. There’s always friends – and there is no sharp line between friends and coworkers. Many of my collaborators are also friends. People who aren’t collaborators now may be at some point in the future, and anyone can provide useful insight into physics. Sometimes you hang out with friends with completely different physics interests and you end up talking about some physics topic which is really useful to both of you. If you’re not based at CERN, you always need to get as much done as possible since you won’t be back for a while. There is something you can’t get done before you leave. There is always work to do and you have to prioritize.
There is also the physical environment at CERN. CERN sits in the valley between the Juras and the Alps. It’s beautiful. There is a a vinyard right next to the lab. Wine from the region is exceptional. And the lab has old buildings named by numbers alone, with numbers that have no relation whatsoever to either their location or their function. At best the buildings are boring. When I stay at the dorms, I walk about 100 feet to work and about 50 feet to get to the cafeteria. It is really convenient to just eat, sleep, and work. Which is basically what I did the last month.
Trips to CERN are always highly productive and incredibly exhausting. During this trip I:
- Completed the training required to work inside the magnet
- Attended a three day meeting on the status of the electromagnetic calorimeter
- Tested and repaired dozens of front end electronic cards
- Worked on getting the newly installed electromagnetic supermodules installed and ready for data
- Met with some visiting journalism students to discuss what we do in ALICE
- Worked with collaborators on our data analysis
- Attended ALICE meetings
- Attended phone meetings for a pending paper
- Attended group meetings over the phone
The last two sets of meetings were meetings in the US, so I would call in to them at 9 PM at night. Most Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays I had phone meetings at 8 or 9 PM, after a full day of work.
So I worked on many things on this trip and worked long hours every day. This is normal for trips to CERN – they are exhausting. And productive. Every day is different. No days are easy. There is nothing about this job that is routine. I spent time climbing around inside the ALICE magnet fixing electronics, worked on outreach to the public, fixed electronics, discussed our analysis method, worked on writing a paper and an analysis note… I learned, taught, listened to others give talks, gave talks… All trips to CERN are really busy, but this was a busier trip than usual. And really productive.
I am developing a love-hate relationship with the CERN cafeteria. It is a much better cafeteria than most cafeterias in the US – definitely better than either the Oak Ridge National Lab or the Brookhaven National Lab cafeterias, both of which I know far too well. But it is still cafeteria food. It’s really convenient so when I need to get a lot of work done it is really easy to just eat at the cafeteria rather than going out or trying to use the kitchens in the dorms to cook. Right now they’re remodeling the main kitchen in the dorm so it’s even tougher than usual to cook at CERN. The first meal I had at home was fajitas with lots of guacamole and hot salsa that is actually spicy. Next up: BBQ.
I want to get back to my morning runs, which aren’t so easy when I’m at CERN. The weather in Tennessee should be really nice for hiking soon and I missed the Smokies. I won’t miss 9 PM phone meetings. (I might have to call into some 8 AM phone meetings instead…) So it’s good to be home.