Sorry, terrible title, as it references an ancient slogan for a now-defunct car brand. But what do you want — it’s the Friday before a holiday weekend!
Today marked the end of the June CMS week, one of three full-on collaboration meetings that the experiment holds each year. Honestly, I find these things overwhelming. It’s an opportunity to get a full view of everything that is going on within the collaboration. This spans detector operations, the trigger system, computing, plans for future detector upgrades, and all the data analysis that is taking place. Of course there is some talk about the challenges that we face — increasing luminosity, more complex event environments, the pressure to get results out promptly, the issues of keeping such a large collaboration organized and efficient. But we also get to see some of the best work that is being done by our collaborators. Some of the data analyses out there are really creative and clever, and you have to tip your hat to the people who are doing the work.
And I sit there thinking: Why am I not working on this myself? Actually, why didn’t I even know before that the work is going on? There are huge swaths of the experiment that I’m barely following, even though they are important. It’s somewhat demoralizing to have trouble keeping up with all the activity that is out there.
I console myself by saying that this is really an issue of scale. Consider the CLEO experiment at Cornell, where I did my PhD thesis about fifteen years ago. At the time it wasn’t the largest collaboration out there, perhaps half the size of one of the Tevatron collider experiments, but it was still substantial, with about 250 people on the author list. I could identify almost everyone in the collaboration on sight, I was reading pretty much every paper that went out, and I had a pretty good handle on what the hot topics were throughout the experiment.
So I need to keep some perspective and remember that these are different times and the LHC experiments are about a factor of ten larger than my thesis experiment. A single LHC experiment is now on the scale of 1500 PhD scientists, which surely puts it on the scale of a major research university. And who would expect to know everything that’s going on inside a research university?
Looking on the bright side, a group of scientists this large, all focused on the same goal, can really do amazing things. One of the amazing things is the ability to collaborate on these scales of both size and distance. But better still will be what we think and hope is coming — a revision of our understanding of how the universe works. It does take this many people to pull it off, and I shouldn’t be embarrassed by the fact that I don’t know what everyone is actually doing.