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Alexandre Fauré | CEA/IRFU | FRANCE

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The passion for Research

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

Welcome at the IRFU of the CEA Saclay (Credits: Alain Porcher)

January, the 28th was an important day for the physics students in Paris and suburbs. Indeed, our lab, the Institut de Recherches sur les lois Fondamentales de l’Univers (IRFU) has welcomed physics students from Paris universities and engineering schools. The goal was to enhance the curiosity of these students to carry on their studies in research, especially in fundamental physics.

The 100 students have to wake up early for a Saturday morning because the research center of the Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique et aux Energies Alternatives (CEA) in Saclay, is located at 30km from the center of Paris. But they all came in a very friendly atmosphere and were aimed to be in the Juliot-Curie auditorium at 9:00 AM. All the local team prepared a very nice breakfast to welcome these students before the first talk, made by the Director of the IRFU, Mr. Philippe Chomaz.

The introduction talk by the Director of the IRFU (Credit: Alain Porcher)

The following talks were given by André Brahic, Roland Lehoucq, Etienne Klein , Nathalie Besson and Nathalie Palanque –Delabrouille to give a large panorama of the research interests of our lab such as the Particle Physics, Cosmology, Astrophysics, … All students seemed to enjoy these talks a lot and the researchers had to be available immediately after their talk to answer to questions.


Etienne Klein answering questions (Credits: Alain Porcher)

The lunch time was also very nice and the occasion for them to discuss with the scientists. We, PhD students, were also there to answer to the questions and explain to them how much we like our thesis subject and what we typically do to ”do” research.

To conclude this great day of discoveries, we were in charge of guiding the students to some shows everywhere in the Saclay’s research center. Some of them had enjoyed a 3D movie about astrophysics, others learned about the particle physics detectors. They also discovered at which point electronics is a major domain in experimental physics.

6:00 PM, it is now time to go to the students to come back home. Feedbacks were very nice for the laboratory and the organizing comittee. I think the best way to conclude this post is to finish with this nice comment :

« I was able to see what is the true work of a PhD student, which is a way to imagine us doing the same thing and to decide what we really want to do during the next few years… ».

PhD student Hervé Grabas explaining fundamental part of electronics in Physics (Credits: Alain Porcher)



Killed by a Deadline

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

Since two or three weeks, it is now the rush for the release of the publication. I experiment the first hard time of the thesis. We have worked a lot with my advisor and we have to achieve more now – it is a marathon …with a sprint at the end.

I heard about previous PhD students which were overwhelmed by all of this stress job and periods after three years of researches. Actually, it seems that you have to keep your efficiency as best as you can during these periods, even if headmasters are expecting more from you. That is one of the main deal during the PhD.

For instance, you are working on a code. After several days or weeks, it is fine. It seems to work. Then, just before the deadline, you finally realize that there is a bug you didn’t even think about ! It is friday evening and you have to send results… Do not panic !

PhD comics describes quite well these stressed periods.

The week-end is hard too and if you really want to be involved in that job, you have to work. Science does not wait for you ! Some pre-results are shown to send to the group review. It is quite fine. You have now more days to complete the work and work more to get results as soon as possible. Of course, you appreciate this time and try not to make mistakes. I learned a lot since we entered in this run thanks to my PhD advisor and the team I am involved in.

At the time I write these lines, the works is not completed yet but I can say that I felt one of the most intensive period since the beginning of my studies in Physics, six years ago… I am sure that it is just the beginning and I am totally motivated to carry on this hard work because I have to say that, I love it – and guess what ? Adrenaline seems to love me too.



Pre-post for the HCP meeting of this week in Paris

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

This is just a very short topic the first international talk I have the pleasure to be involved in, for my PhD and thanks to my laboratory.

In a few hours, we will have the pleasure to be in the quartier latin in Paris, to hear news and status from worldwide physics research. By the way, I suggest you to read the interesting post of Gregorio which is in the organizing comitee of this conference and to know more about these several talks.

HCP-2011 in Paris

Top, QCD, heavy ions, new phenomena will be discussed during this whole week. Of course, the most expected one is about the Higgs physics with some interesting information…especially from LHC. These Higgs talks I am more particulary interested in, will take place Wednesday morning. I guess we will have some announcement as Gregorio’s post said.

Anyway, I will hope to meet a lot of people there and especially Fermilab’s colleagues.




A Strong French-American Friendship

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

Does the anti-matter from Angels and Daemons movie really exists?’‘, ”Can we create small black holes with particles accelerators?” or, for the most surprising ones “Did you considered the secondary vertexes during your analysis?”

These are some questions pupils and students from Chicago asked us during the first French-American Science Festival organized by the French Embassy on 14 October 2011.

We were four people from the CEA IRFU/SPP to go in the Northwestern University to talk about science, physics and especially for us, particle physics. It was really a success because a lot of people came to understand what could be the job of a particle physicist, and the organizing team was pretty enthusiastic too.

But the story began pretty bad actually. I arrived the previous day during the night in Chicago O’Hare with my colleague Christophe Royon. We were exhausted when arriving at the hotel. Nevertheless, the next day we went, or planed to go, to downtown Chicago, but the fact is we didn’t take the highway and it took almost two hours to find the Northwestern University.

The Fermilab/CERN stand we were working on.

Hopefully for us, Fabrice Couderc, Emilien Chapon and Verena were really efficient and professional – at the arrival of the pupils and students (which was actually our arrival too), experiments, computers, movies were set up and available for the audience.

Christophe and Emilien were responsible most of the time for the talks given in the conference room next to the stand. It was an occasion to gather all interested pupils and explain to them how all of the particle stuff works. The conference room was also linked live to the CERN in Geneva. Young people were able to ask questions from one thousand kilometers from there and better understand what they could have heard from us in the building hall.

For Fabrice (who did an amazing job of vulgarization since the early morning), Verena, Emilien and I were located in the big hall of the building, where all other people showed their experiments and talked about their field of research (such as chemistry and biology).

The pupils came with their teacher most of the time by group of 15 people. Of course, the most difficult part is to begin your explanation to start with. We were helped with posters of LHC which showed pretty awesome pictures from the movie Angels and Demons, pictures of the accelerators LHC and Tevatron, pictures of quarks which could sounds weird but was really useful to explain of what the matter is composed on.

During the explanation of how difficult it could be to found the "black" particle between a lot of background or yellow balls.

As far as I am concerned, it was really nice and interesting to get back to vulgarization for a day. My QD readers already know that I was involved in vulgarization work during my pre-Ph.D. studies in France, so I recover quite easily my ”teacher’s skills”. Pupils seemed to be interested and, for those who were not, it was easy for me to let them focus on – in that case, the best thing to do is to directly ask them questions about what you are saying and showing them that they have the basis of understanding these complicated ideas in particle physics. They focused again and enjoyed what they learn after that.

In the afternoon, it was the time for talks for all of us. Mrs. Martial-Gros started with the inaugural talk for this first French-American French festival to introduce the next speakers such as Pierre Léna from the french Académie des Sciences, who made a really interesting talk on the way of learning the science in school for young children.

The day was concluded with a cocktail party given by the French dmbassy to thank all the participants of this great day which symbolize, more than a friendly science vulgarization session, but the great French-American friendship that we were really happy to be part of.

We would like to thank the french Ambassy in Chicago and their staff to make this day possible and the CEA of Saclay.

The CEA Saclay IRFU/SPP team and Verena from Fermilab.



The US Science Festival in Chicago

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

This is it. I started my PhD since last week in Saclay. I was expecting this since I was coming back from my US trip even if I never stopped working during all of this time just because I so much love it and so much want to learn more…

I have now my own desk for this long time to come. Of course, I am really happy to work with other PhD students of my experiment and others, on LHC’ ones. It will be certainly very useful to be able to share a lot of computing and/or physics tips during hard work times.

On the other hand, there is one bad part for all of that stuff : to sign papers. Everyday since I started, I have to share papers, to ask for people’s signatures and to send them back to the dedicated authorities. That could be really a nightmare if people are not really involved in their work but that is not the case in my lab, hopefully for me.

Comes the really best part to begin the work : the US Science Festival in Chicago is coming, like in France, next week in the United States. A french colleague of my experiment team asked me if I want to be part of this great experience to vulgarize and teach to interested citizen how experimental particle physics works. This mission is provided by the french Consulate of Chicago which want to show the french and american collaboration especially in science, with the great Fermilab’s TeVatron experiment. Most of the people we will see are pupils and students from Chicago and this is a really good time to make them interested in physics or, at least, science.

This is a good way to carry on the vulgarization works I have made in France when I was animator and guide in spatial park museum and in planetarium. I don’t have the time to be involved in that stuff anymore so I really wanted to be part of this.

In fact, since the beginning of my high school in France, I heard a couple of times that pupils/students are not interested in mathematics and physics anymore because it seems to hard for them. Everyone involved in science have heard, at least one time in his life, the famous sentence : ”Maths ? Uh, I never like that ! That’s definitely not for me”.

I hope things are going to change now and it seems to be the case for younger students when they want to be part of physics after an episode of the great The Big Bang Theory TV show – some people believe that is not a good thing to let them studying physics just because of that… I think the opposite : when students don’t know how to study and when they are lost after the A-Level, why not let them enrolled in Physics ? After all, they could discovered a world they never thought about !
I am convinced like a lot of things in human’s life, you have to make an effort and boost yourself for things you want to be better in. That is an advice you can apply for each difficult task you will encountered.

The Big Bang Theory TV show which enjoys a lot of students all over the world about physics' geeks and nerds.

What I want to pass on to these young people is : whatever difficult the task is, the most important thing you have to keep in mind is that you have to be curious and open-minded – just ask yourself how everyday’s things works and why. You could imagine new ways of working for them.
When you will not be shy anymore on these questions, start asking yourself about bigger thoughts e. g. about the Universe – there is so much questions you won’t be able to answer right now but that’s just the beauty of science : learn more is a path to ask more and more questions…

I discussed with people who did not want to know how the Universe begun, how and of what matter is composed of, what is supermassive black holes or why the speed of light is finite… I try to be open-minded but that totally goes beyond me to hear that.

Anyway, I am really happy to go back in Chicago, this beautiful city I loved when I first came there this fall and to see friends in Fermilab after the TeVatron’s shut down. I will try to get some pictures of you when working in the NorthWestern University, readers of Quantum Diaries, to share this beautiful experience.



Last owl shift at DZero

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

As I write these lines, I have been on night shift for one hour. Hopefully this time, we are in a store and we can take a physics run – it wasn’t the case over the three previous days because of some issues in the TeVatron. But we have to be prepared for this all night of shift, which is just the fourth of seven days.

11:00 p.m. is time to wake up for me. You have to follow a perfect schedule to avoid health problems when you are working during the night. So you often plan to sleep since 4:00pm to 11:00pm and have a great night/afternoon of sleep. For this, I have my own tricks to fall asleep pretty quickly.

First, I had my dinner during the lunch period, that is to say at 12:00 a.m. typically. It’s a good way, before going to sleep, to tell your body that you expect to sleep in the next hours. Then, I take a shower to cool my body, wash my teeth like a good boy and go to sleep. If you sleep well, you are pretty not tired when you wake up. Then, take a breakfast with bread, cereal, milk and orange juice (again, to trick your body and take some sugars to be efficient during the shift) – of course, at the beginning, it is pretty weird to do that stuff at 11:00 p.m. but anyway, you have to be at work at midnight to begin you shift!

Fermilab DZero experiment logo.

My colleague/friend of my french lab is there so I can avoid taking the bike at midnight to go to work (which is very good, I would like to thank him with this post); then you arrive in the DZero control room and speak with the previous shifter to be aware of all the previous issues encountered and how to fix them if you are lucky. You are waiting for the other new shifters to be there i.e. the Track shifter (for the tracker system part of the detector), the CalMuo shifter (for the calorimeter and muon system parts) and the Captain, who leads all of us. As a DAQ shifter, I am responsible of recording data in the computers to let the worldwide DZero people working on these data. As you can easily understand, it is better not to make errors, especially now, one month before the TeVatron ends!

During the first hour of your shift, you need to make a walkthrough, that is to say, going to see how the servers of computer farms are working and if there is no error during data taking and processing. Usually, there is no problem, or if there is some, you already know it by watching of the nine computer screens you have in front of you.

Each screen has a special duty, necessary for you to know what has actually happened, and most of the time, how to solve the encountered issues. For my job, I have to be sure that the events are well recorded after bypassing though a lot of triggers, whose are responsible of taking only interesting events for our further analysis. There are actually three different levels L1,L2 and L3. The L1 trigger has to be the fastest to make a decision in microseconds, then to send data to L2 and finally to L3 (before recording tapes). The data recorded will be used by the collaboration to make plots you already know.

A panorama of the DZero Control Room with me on the DAQ place. (Copyright. Eduard Delacruz-Burelo).

Then, you can easily expect to make other interesting operations as the beginning of a new store, which consists of reinitializing the computer framework to be able to record data on tapes for several runs. These runs will be used after that by other people to filter all of this information. Of course, there are some troubles sometimes you have to fix (especially when you have a huge responsibility).

I always remember my first day of shift at the end of June when it was such a mess – I was frightened and I can not do anything, waiting for the captain instructions. Most of the time, you have to keep cool, to talk to other shifters and see if the issue already happened in the past.

This is now my last time on shift. I am not working at DZero since a long time but I can say that it is quite sad to think that, in a month, all of that will be over. All of these discussions, encountered problems, laughs sometimes and learning science were wonderful experiences for me. I would like to thank again my PhD advisor which was responsible of this opportunity and, of course, the Fermilab DZero team.

Thanks to Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, thanks to the great DZero team and thanks to you, readers of this post.



The RSP – Research Social Part

Friday, August 5th, 2011

Do not try to google the ‘RSP’ on Google – it is an acronym I just invented for the title of my new post.
I was discussing with a friend/colleague from France who was here at Fermilab for the end of his thesis. We first talked about the social part in research. Actually, there are two main ideas I want to share with all of you.

First, how great it is to work at a lab when you are on a great team. From the tiny part I know about research, I can really say that research is a full-time job, which by the way will seem obvious for all of you. Actually, the word ‘job’ does not fit very well to the situation and it is much more like a real engagement.

Professeur Tournesol from the french comics Tintin.

You are a puzzle part in the team – the central or the side one, depending of your skills and your experience. Everyone is aiming to bring a new skill, a new point of view on the current work to the team.

Of course, feel free to make comparisons with sports — that is to say everyone has a specific job to help the team win the game. Or you could make comparisons with an orchestra, where everyone has a specific part to play in order to make a better harmony!

And in physics? Some people have very good physics sense: They know immediately how to answer when the group raises some hard questions. Or they will drive you and let you be aware of the correct questions to consider. Others, of course, are more involved in the computing parts and enable us to upgrade our own skills and make the analysis fast.

Some will be able to give you a lot of references papers, books, etc., to make you learn much more than you ever thought when asking your ‘simple’ question. Usually, they know how to understand all parts of the research and summarize all of the stuff that is really necessary in this job. As far as I know, in my team, all of these skills are available. And of course, the human part is our own ‘glue’ to make all of us, to be part of this gorgeous team.

The second part I would like to share about is that non-scientific social part. I cannot say that I saw a lot of people being single during my previous researches internships but, for sure, it does not seem very easy to be engaged during full-time research. The main thing is that the time spent working is very long mainly because you do not have enough time to perform all the analyses you want.

For me, it is much more because I want to understand all of these things and to be quickly available to be part of the entire work performed in the team. It seems to take a lot of time to be familiar with all the tools so quickly I will work with this, quickly I will be able to do some work – at least, I hope that …


Into the Heat of Fermilab

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Well … I guess that’s the kind of feelings books writers have when they try to start a new story – you’ve so much to tell, but you don’t know really how to start. As you can see, I think the best is to write about that feeling. And I’m kind in the right mood now, so …

Good evening everyone !

This is my first post on the Quantum Diaries blogs I discovered one year ago during quiet times of my summer internship at the LPC in Clermont-Ferrand. It was actually my first contact with particle physics (I didn’t study particle physics until my fifth year of physics) and with the computing part behind of all that stuff. I have to say that it was a little bit tricky at the beginning but I love that part and learn a lot of things. This particle physics work was also a great experience which confirmed my will to work in that thrilling field.

I also learn that such a site exists to show how the life of physicists (and young apprentices ones) is. I am very proud to have the opportunity to be part of it with the precious help of Chris Knight. I would like to thank him with this post.

I also have to apologized to my first readers because I wanted to be able to write this post sooner… In fact, there were a lot of troubles in the DZero control room this evening during my shifts (we will talk about shifts later in the blog). The weather remains very warm since two days now in Chicago and we have still 32°C outside at 11:37pm. Our detector doesn’t seem to like this and it caused some cooling problems (humidity didn’t help too). So, hard times – yes ! – but very interesting parts because I learn a lot of things about the detector and how all of these parts ruled each other with the help of a fantastic crew of the DZero detector.


In front of the High Rise or Wilson Hall building with a french inspiration architecture.

In front of the High Rise or Wilson Hall building with a french inspiration architecture.

One month ago, I was in an Air France airplane to move to Chicago, from Paris. It was the first time I was traveling so far and the jetlag was a very nice experience (even If I didn’t feel it when I arrived. I hope it will be the case when I’ll come back to Paris). My PhD advisor send me at Fermilab before I officially start my PhD because, as a lot of you know, the TeVatron will stop this year, at the end of september. It’s a great opportunity for me to see how all of this stuff work and how are recorded the data I used in the lab since I began my internship

It’s also a great human adventure. Of course, I didn’t used to talk so often in english in France. Even in my housing, I talk in english with my friend who works in the same lab as me, in Saclay ! You also meet new people, from the same experiment sometimes, and very often during the shifts. This cultural mix is also a great opportunity to learn more from these people from other countries – I very like this.

Of course, it’s also a great time for me to discover the US or, at least, a great part of it in Chicago. I’ll certainly post more details about this city in few days. I really think that I’m walking in Gotham City streets during the week-end and it’s very pleasant ! But behind the movies’ cliché, there’s also a great history and stories which came with this wonderful city.

Perhaps you’ve get the right feeling I have while writing to you from Fermilab, perhaps you have understand that It’s a great adventure for me, perhaps you’ve also understand that I really enjoy my job right now and perhaps you like this first post. Anyway, I want to thank you a lot for reading this and I’ll try to get more experience with you, by this blog’s way, to know more about all of you and of course, more about particle physics.