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Archive for August, 2015

Double time

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

In particle physics, we’re often looking for very rare phenomena, which are highly unlikely to happen in any given particle interaction. Thus, at the LHC, we want to have the greatest possible proton collision rates; the more collisions, the greater the chance that something unusual will actually happen. What are the tools that we have to increase collision rates?

Remember that the proton beams are “bunched” — there isn’t a continuous current current of protons in a beam, but a series of smaller bunches of protons, each only a few centimeters long, with gaps of many centimeters between each bunch.  The beams are then timed so that bunches from each beam pass through each other (“cross”) inside one of the big detectors.  A given bunch can have 10E11 protons in it, and when two bunches cross, perhaps tens of the protons in each bunch — a tiny fraction! — will interact.  This bunching is actually quite important for the operation of the detectors — we can know when bunches are crossing, and thus when collisions happen, and then we know when the detectors should really be “on” to record the data.

If one were to have a fixed number of protons in the machine (and thus a fixed total amount of beam current), you could imagine two ways to create the same number of collisions: have N bunches per beam, each with M protons, or 2N bunches per beam with M/sqrt(2) protons.  The more bunches in the beam, the more closely spaced they would have to be, but that can be done.  From the perspective of the detectors, the second scenario is much preferred.  That’s because you get fewer proton collisions per bunch crossing, and thus fewer particles streaming through the detectors.  The collisions are much easier to interpret if you have fewer collisions per crossing; among other things, you need less computer processing time to reconstruct each event, and you will have fewer mistakes in the event reconstruction because there aren’t so many particles all on top of each other.

In the previous LHC run (2010-12), the accelerator had “50 ns spacing” between proton bunches, i.e. bunch crossings took place every 50 ns.  But over the past few weeks, the LHC has been working on running with “25 ns spacing,” which would allow the beam to be segmented into twice as many bunches, with fewer protons per bunch.  It’s a new operational mode for the machine, and thus some amount of commissioning and tuning and so forth are required.  A particular concern is “electron cloud” effects due to stray particles in the beampipe striking the walls and ejecting more particles, which is a larger effect with smaller bunch spacing.  But from where I sit as one of the experimenters, it looks like good progress has been made so far, and as we go through the rest of this year and into next year, 25 ns spacing should be the default mode of operation.  Stay tuned for what physics we’re going to be learning from all of this!

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The Tesla experiment

Thursday, August 27th, 2015
CMS scientist Bo Jayatilaka assumes the driver seat in a Tesla Model S P85D as part of a two-day road trip experiment. Photo: Sam Paakkonen

CMS scientist Bo Jayatilaka assumes the driver seat in a Tesla Model S P85D as part of a two-day road trip experiment. Photo: Sam Paakkonen

On May 31, about 50 miles from the Canadian border, an electric car struggled up steep hills, driving along at 40 miles per hour. The sun was coming up and rain was coming down. Things were looking bleak. The car, which usually plotted the route to the nearest charging station, refused to give directions.

“It didn’t even say turn around and go back,” said Bo Jayatilaka, who was driving the car. “It gave up and said, ‘You’re not going to make it.’ The plot disappeared.”

Rewind to a few weeks earlier: Tom Rammer, a Chicago attorney, had just won two days with a Tesla at a silent cell phone auction for the American Cancer Society. He recruited Mike Kirby, a Fermilab physicist, to figure out how to get the most out of those 48 hours.

Rammer and Kirby agreed that the answer was a road trip. Their initial plan was a one-way trip to New Orleans. Another involved driving to Phoenix and crossing the border to Mexico for a concert. Tesla politely vetoed these options. Ultimately, Rammer and Kirby decided on an 867-mile drive from Chicago to Boston. Their goal was to pick up Jayatilaka, a physicist working on the CMS experiment, and bring him back to Fermilab. To document their antics, the group hired a film crew of six to follow them on their wild voyage from the Windy City to Beantown.

Jayatilaka joked that he didn’t trust Rammer and Kirby to arrange the trip on their own, so they also drafted Jen Raaf, a Fermilab physicist on the MicroBooNE experiment, whose organizational skills would balance their otherwise chaotic approach.

“There was no preparing. Every time I brought it up Tom said, ‘Eh, it’ll get done,’” Raaf laughed. Jayatilaka added that shortly after Raaf came on board they started seeing spreadsheets sent around and itineraries being put together.

“I had also made contingency plans in case we couldn’t make it to Boston,” Raaf said, with a hint of foreshadowing.

The Tesla plots the return trip to Chicago, locating the nearest charging station. Photo: Sam Paakkonen

The Tesla plots the return trip to Chicago, locating the nearest charging station. Photo: Sam Paakkonen

On May 29, Rammer, Kirby and Raaf picked up the Tesla and embarked on their journey. The car’s name was Barbara. She was a black Model S P85D, top of the line, and she could go from zero to 60 in 3.2 seconds.

“I think the physics of it is really interesting,” Jayatilaka said. “The reason it’s so fast is that the motor is directly attached to wheels. With cars we normally drive there is a very complicated mechanical apparatus that converts small explosions into something that turns far away from where the explosions are. And this thing just goes. You press the button and it goes.”

The trip started out on flat terrain, making for smooth, easy driving. But eventually the group hit mountains, which ate up Barbara’s battery capacity. In the spirit of science, these physicists pushed the boundaries of what they knew, testing Barbara’s limits as they braved undulating roads, encounters with speed-hungry Porsches and Canadian border patrol.

“If you have something and it’s automated, you need to know the limitations of that algorithm. The computer does a great job of calculating the range for a given charge, but we do much better knowing the terrain and what’s going to happen. We need to figure out what we are better at and what the algorithm is better at,” Kirby said. “The trip was about learning the car. The algorithm is going to get better because of all of the experiences of all of the drivers.”

The result of the experiment was that Barbara didn’t make it all the way to Boston. As they approached the east coast, it became clear to Kirby and Raaf that they wouldn’t have made it back in time to drop off the car. Although Rammer was determined to see the trip through to the end, he eventually gave in somewhere in New Jersey, and they decided to cut the trip short. Jayatilaka met the group in a parking lot in Springfield, Massachusetts, and they plotted the quickest route back to Chicago.

Flash forward to that bleak moment on May 31. After crossing the border, just as things were looking hopeless, Barbara’s systems suddenly came back to life. She directed the group to a charging station in chilly Kingston, Ontario. Around 6:30 in the morning, they rolled into the station. The battery level: zero percent. After a long charge and another full day of driving, they pulled into the Tesla dealership in Chicago around 8:55 p.m., minutes before their time with Barbara was up.

“The car was just alien technology to us when we started,” Jayatilaka said. “It was completely unfamiliar. We all came away from it thinking that we could have done this road trip so much better with those two days of experience. We felt like we actually understood.”

Ali Sundermier

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Grégoire Besse, doctorant au CNRS en physique nucléaire théorique, nous confie son intérêt pour la médiation des sciences.

C’est en débutant ma thèse que je me suis aperçu du lien inéluctable entre la recherche et la vulgarisation. J’ai donc progressivement choisi de me lancer dans cette démarche afin d’expliquer mes recherches et de les rendre plus « limpides » pour le commun des mortels. Ma thèse porte sur la physique nucléaire théorique et s’intitule  « Description théorique de la dynamique nucléaire lors des collisions d’ions lourds et ses implications astrophysiques ». Elle se déroule au laboratoire Subatech à Nantes. Je travaille sur la description dynamique d’un système nucléaire, c’est-à-dire des noyaux en collision ou en réseau. Pour cela, le groupe de recherche dont je fais partie a élaboré un code de simulation nommé Dynamical Yavelets in Nuclei (DYWAN). Ce code est déjà opérationnel mais reste en phase d’optimisation.

Exemple de collision à basse énergie entre deux noyaux. On observe que les noyaux se déforment sous l’effet de la force nucléaire pour se coller, jusqu’à atteindre une fusion.

Exemple de collision à basse énergie entre deux noyaux. On observe que les noyaux se déforment sous l’effet de la force nucléaire pour se coller, jusqu’à atteindre une fusion.

La physique nucléaire s’intéresse aux noyaux et aux comportements de la force nucléaire. La force nucléaire, ou interaction forte résiduelle, est l’effet de l’interaction forte (quarks-gluons) à l’échelle nucléaire. Il s’agit de l’interaction nucléon-nucléon. Bien moins médiatisée que la physique des hautes énergies (celle du LHC et du boson de Higgs), la physique nucléaire reste néanmoins un maillon essentiel pour comprendre la matière. De plus, ses applications sont immédiates, comme par exemple avec la radioactivité, la fission, la fusion ou la production de radio-isotopes.

Ma passion au service de mon travail

Aperçu de l’environnement 3D en OpenGL. Il est visitable comme un jeu-vidéo avec clavier-souris. Les noyaux (bleu-rouge et cyan-rose), déjà mêlés, sont représentés par des objets mathématiques : les états cohérents (les boules avec des nuages de points).

Aperçu de l’environnement 3D en OpenGL. Il est visitable comme un jeu-vidéo avec clavier-souris. Les noyaux (bleu-rouge et cyan-rose), déjà mêlés, sont représentés par des objets mathématiques : les états cohérents (les boules avec des nuages de points).

Le but de ma thèse est de fournir un code de simulation puissant capable de reproduire des données et des comportements observés expérimentalement puis de prédire des réactions. Nous nous focalisons sur la collision d’ions lourds qui permettent de produire des systèmes nucléaires très exotiques tels que de la matière très riche en neutrons. D’autres groupes de recherche du laboratoire s’intéressent plutôt aux études de la radioactivité, de la durée de vie et du comportement des noyaux isolés. Ceci me rappelle la métaphore d’Albert Einstein qui expliquait que pour comprendre le fonctionnement d’une montre sans l’ouvrir, vous avez deux solutions : l’observation (écoute, regard, prise de données et émission d’hypothèses) ou l’expérimentation (vous lancez la montre contre un mur, vous regardez les pièces qui sortent et vous essayer de tout remettre en ordre). Nous utilisons plutôt cette deuxième méthode.

Parallèlement à ma thèse, j’essaie de mettre au point un logiciel  alliant recherche et nouvelles technologies (j’en suis arrivé à un environnement 3D visitable avec clavier-souris). Je suis très intéressé par la réalité virtuelle et la réalité augmentée : je pense que ces outils permettront de nouvelles approches dans la recherche, un nouveau point de vue pour une nouvelle théorie. Et cela a déjà fait ses preuves : nous avons débusqué des erreurs sur DYWAN grâce à mon logiciel !

L’oiseau bleu, ami de la recherche

Mon arrivée sur Twitter n’est pas très ancienne, mais très vite j’ai compris que ce réseau social est un outil formidable pour la recherche. Cette dernière est un monde actif en constante évolution, il paraît alors légitime de se tenir informé des avancées car cela fait normalement partie de notre travail. Par ailleurs, Twitter permet un aperçu rapide (- de 140 caractères) des informations importantes.

J’ai découvert le compte @EnDirectDuLabo par hasard : chaque semaine, un scientifique en prend les rênes pour partager son quotidien avec les abonnés. Avec un public potentiel de plus de 2 000 personnes, l’expérience peut être intimidante. Mais finalement, lorsque ce fut mon tour, tout s’est bien passé et j’ai eu des échanges avec un public varié : chercheurs, doctorants, journalistes, community managers, amateurs et autres curieux.

Au final, cette expérience m’a aidé à mieux cerner mon sujet de thèse. De plus, ces « relations » sont très enrichissantes au quotidien : une photo, une phrase, un article, un blog, vive la curiosité et le partage 2.0 !

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MicroBooNE sees first cosmic muons

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

This article appeared in Fermilab Today on Aug. 12, 2015.

This image shows the first cosmic ray event recorded in the MicroBooNE TPC on Aug. 6. Image: MicroBooNE

This image shows the first cosmic ray event recorded in the MicroBooNE TPC on Aug. 6. Image: MicroBooNE

A school bus-sized detector packed with 170 tons of liquid argon has seen its first particle footprints.

On Aug. 6, MicroBooNE, a liquid-argon time projection chamber, or LArTPC, recorded images of the tracks of cosmic muons, particles that shower down on Earth when cosmic rays collide with nuclei in our atmosphere.

“This is the first detector of this size and scale we’ve ever launched in the U.S. for use in a neutrino beam, so it’s a very important milestone for the future of neutrino physics,” said Sam Zeller, co-spokesperson for the MicroBooNE collaboration.

Picking up cosmic muons is just one brief stop during MicroBooNE’s expedition into particle physics. The centerpiece of the three detectors planned for Fermilab’s Short-Baseline Neutrino program, or SBN, MicroBooNE will pursue the much more elusive neutrino, taking data about this weakly interacting particle for about three years. When beam starts up in October, it will travel 470 meters and then traverse the liquid argon in MicroBooNE, where neutrino interactions will result in tracks that the detector can convert into precise three-dimensional images. Scientists will use these images to investigate anomalies seen in an earlier experiment called MiniBooNE, with the aim to determine whether the excess of low-energy events that MiniBooNE saw was due to a new source of background photons or if there could be additional types of neutrinos beyond the three established flavors.

One of MicroBooNE’s goals is to measure how often a neutrino that interacts with an argon atom will produce certain types of particles. A second goal is to conduct R&D for future large-scale LArTPCs. MicroBooNE will carry signals up to two and a half meters across the detector, the longest drift ever for a LArTPC in a neutrino beam. This requires a very high voltage and very pure liquid argon. It is also the first time a detector will operate with its electronics submerged in liquid argon on such a large scale. All of these characteristics will be important for future experiments such as the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment, or DUNE, which plans to use similar technology to probe neutrinos.

“The entire particle physics community worldwide has identified neutrino physics as one of the key lines of research that could help us understand better how to go beyond what we know now,” said Matt Toups, run coordinator and co-commissioner for MicroBooNE with Fermilab Scientist Bruce Baller. “Those questions that are driving the field, we hope to answer with a very large LArTPC detector.”

Another benefit of the experiment, Zeller said, is training the next generation of LArTPC experts for future programs and experiments. MicroBooNE is a collaborative effort of 25 institutions, with 55 students and postdocs working tirelessly to perfect the technology. Collaborators are keeping their eyes on the road toward the future of neutrino physics and liquid-argon technology.

“It’s been a long haul,” said Bonnie Fleming, MicroBooNE co-spokesperson. “Eight and a half years ago liquid argon was a total underdog. I used to joke that no one would sit next to me at the lunch table. And it’s a world of difference now. The field has chosen liquid argon as its future technology, and all eyes are on us to see if our detector will work.”

Ali Sundermier

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This article appeared in Fermilab Today on Aug. 11, 2015.

This prototype represents one of 27 modules that will make up a critical section of the Mu2e experiment, the transport solenoid. Photo: Reidar Hahn

This prototype represents one of 27 modules that will make up a critical section of the Mu2e experiment, the transport solenoid. Photo: Reidar Hahn

If you’ve ever looked at a graphic of Fermilab’s future Mu2e experiment, you’ve likely noticed its distinctive, center s-shaped section. Tall and wide enough for a person to fit inside it, this large, curving series of magnets, called the transport solenoid, is perhaps the experiment’s most technologically demanding piece to build.

Last month a group in the Fermilab Technical Division aced three tests — for alignment, current and temperature — of a prototype transport solenoid module built by magnet experts at Fermilab’s Technical Division and INFN-Genoa in Italy.

The triple milestone means that Fermilab can now order the full set for production — 27 modules.

“The results were excellent,” said Magnet Systems Department scientist Mau Lopes, who is leading the effort.

There’s not much wiggle room when it comes to the transport solenoid, a crucial component for the ultrasensitive Mu2e experiment. Mu2e will look for a predicted but never observed phenomenon, the conversion of a muon into its much lighter, more familiar cousin, the electron, without the usual accompanying neutrinos. To do this, it will send muons into a detector where scientists will look for particular signatures of the rare process.

The transport solenoid generates a magnetic field that deftly separates muons based on their momentum and charge and directs slow muons to the center of the Mu2e detector. The maneuver requires some fairly precisely designed details, not the least of which is a good fit.

When put together, the 27 wedge-shaped modules will form a tube with the snake-like profile. Muons will travel down this vacuum tube. To guide them along the right path to the detector, the solenoid units must align with each other to within 0.2 degrees. The Magnet Systems team exceeded expectation: The prototype was aligned with 100 times greater precision.

The team achieved not just the right shape, but the right current. The electrical current running through the solenoid coil creates the magnetic field. The Mu2e team exceeded the nominal current of 1,730 amps, reaching 2,200 amps. As a bonus, while that amount of current has the potential to create a slight deformation in the module’s shape, the Mu2e team measured no change in the structure.

Nor was there much change in the model’s temperature, which must be very low. The team delivered 2.5 watts of power to the coil — well above what the coils will see when running. The module proved robust: The temperature changed by a mere whisker — 150 millikelvin, or 0.27 degrees Fahrenheit. The coils will be at 5 Kelvin when operating. The prototype sustained the nominal current at up to 8 Kelvin.

Fermilab has selected a vendor to produce the modules. Lopes expects that it will be two and a half years until all modules are complete.

“We thank all the smart people at INFN Genoa, the Fermilab Test and Instrumentation Department, the Magnet Systems Department and the Accelerator Division Cryogenics Department for this achievement,” Lopes said. “These seven months of hard work have paid off tremendously. Our project continues at full steam ahead.”

Leah Hesla

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This article appeared in Fermilab Today on Aug. 10, 2015.

The Fermilab Short-Baseline Neutrino program will use three detectors: SBND, MicroBooNE (shown here) and ICARUS. Photo: Reidar Hahn

The Fermilab Short-Baseline Neutrino program will use three detectors: SBND, MicroBooNE (shown here) and ICARUS. Photo: Reidar Hahn

In 1995, physicists working on the Liquid Scintillator Neutrino Detector, or LSND, at Los Alamos National Laboratory stumbled upon some curious results.

The experiment, whose goal was to investigate oscillations between the three different flavors of the elusive neutrino, saw evidence that there might be at least one additional flavor of neutrino lurking just out of reach. In 2002, an experiment at Fermilab called MiniBooNE started collecting data to explore this anomaly, but the results were inconclusive: some data seemed to refute the possibility of a fourth neutrino, but other data seemed to indicate particle interactions that couldn’t be explained with conventional three-neutrino models. The possibility of a mysterious, fourth neutrino remained alive.

“It’s a question that’s been first lingering with the anomalies from LSND and then MiniBooNE,” said Bonnie Fleming, co-spokesperson of a new neutrino experiment at Fermilab called MicroBooNE. “There’s now a worldwide campaign to address whether these short-baseline oscillations and hints from other experiments are indicating new physics.”

Scientists from Fermilab and more than 45 institutions around the world have teamed up to design a program to catch this hypothetical neutrino in the act. The program, called the Short-Baseline Neutrino (SBN) program, makes use of a trio of detectors positioned along one of Fermilab’s neutrino beams. Although there are other reactor and source-based experiments in the world that actively seek a fourth neutrino, also called a sterile neutrino, SBN is the only program that uses a particle accelerator to produce neutrinos and multiple neutrino detectors for this search.

“No one else is doing an experiment like this,” said Peter Wilson, coordinator for the SBN program. “There are no other experiments on this energy scale using the concept of a near detector and a far detector.”

Determining whether there are more than three neutrino flavors would affect how scientists interpret data from experiments like the planned Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment, which is expected to make transformative discoveries about neutrinos, and perhaps other aspects of the universe, in the future. Solving the mystery of the anomalies seen at LSND and MiniBooNE, however, will not be easy. Because the sterile neutrino would not interact through the weak nuclear force as the other three do (hence the name “sterile”), detecting this particle would be like chasing the shadow of a ghost.

It begins at the Fermilab Booster, where protons are accelerated to 8 GeV and smashed into a target, creating new particles. Charged particles are bent forward by a magnetic focusing device into a tunnel where most decay to produce muon neutrinos. The three detectors — named the Short-Baseline Near Detector, or SBND, MicroBooNE and ICARUS — will be spread out over a distance of 600 meters. SBND, 100 meters from the target, will take data close to the source to reduce systematic uncertainties by measuring the initial characteristics of the muon neutrino beam. Four hundred meters beyond the planned site for SBND is MicroBooNE, which is already installed. ICARUS will be located 110 meters past MicroBooNE. ICARUS is an existing detector from a previous experiment at the Italian INFN laboratory at Gran Sasso that is currently being refurbished at CERN. It will have a massive chamber holding 760 tons of liquid argon to beat down statistical uncertainties in the experiment.

All three of the detectors are time projection chambers, a type of detector that allows physicists to analyze particle collisions in three dimensions. For these particular TPCs, scientists use liquid argon because its relatively heavy mass ensures a higher rate of interactions.

MicroBooNE received its last fill of liquid argon in July and recently began taking data. Scientists are expecting to break ground on buildings for both ICARUS and SBND by this fall. In 2017, ICARUS will be fully refurbished and delivered to Fermilab. Scientists hope to complete building SBND that same year.

Since experimenters won’t be able to directly detect the sterile neutrino, they will search for clues in the trails of particles the three known neutrino flavors leave behind in the liquid argon after they interact. If the experiments, expected to begin running in 2018, see deviations in the expected neutrino oscillation pattern, scientists will know that they’re on the right track in their hunt for this fugitive particle. If not, they will be able to put the mystery of the sterile neutrino to rest.

“If we design a strong enough experiment, which I believe we have, then one of two things will happen when we start taking data,” said David Schmitz, co-spokesperson for SBND. “Either we will rule out the earlier hints, or we make, frankly, the most exciting discovery in particle physics in some time.”

Ali Sundermier

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