Greetings. My first post is coming to you from the Netherlands, where a small group of physicists have gathered this week for the 6th International Workshop on High-pT physics at the LHC. Utrecht is a university town, and by far, bikes are the preferred way to get around. The town has a wonderful air of sophistication, without feeling snobby. It is like a smaller rendition of Amsterdam, without the excessive tourism. Everyone’s pedaling along effortlessly through the crowds in wool jackets, scarves, and leather shoes, talking on the phone or chatting with another rider. It helps that their country is dead flat, but still, they make neon-wearing American bike commuters look kind of dorky in comparison.
The conference this week was valuable because it was a workshop–an unintimidating environment to ask questions, with ample time for discussion–and you can pick up a lot during the coffee breaks and over dinner. On the other hand, there were not a lot of new results unveiled. The problem is the timing.
In many ways, the rhythm of our field is set by one major quasi-annual conference: the International Conference on Ultrarelativistic Nucleus-Nucleus collisions, better known as Quark Matter, is coming up in May. QM 2011 is in Annecy this year, within an hour from Geneva by train. Last year, the conference didn’t happen, and this year, its timing was selected to be about six months after the LHC Pb+Pb colliding period…just enough time for the collaborations to churn out exciting (but believable) results.
This year will be a major showcase of the LHC’s eagerly-awaited heavy ion results. Thus, any conference falling a few weeks beforehand is bound to be a little drab in comparison. If any experiment is holding a good hand at this point, they are unlikely to choose a small workshop to lay it down on the table. Since credit and recognition are the currencies of our field, most will choose to let the pot get a little bigger.
With Quark Matter coming up so soon, we need to get you caught up on some of the hot topics in high-energy nuclear physics. In the next few installments, I will try to add some insight, from the perspective of an experimentalist in the trenches, on some of the hottest topics…in the universe. Check back soon!