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Katherine Copic | USLHC | USA

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the transatlantic shot setup

Friday, September 30th, 2011

As many others have posted, today is the day that the Fermilab Tevatron collider will end its 28-year career. (See the front page of Quantum Diaries for many more details!) It’s important to understand that Fermilab itself is not shutting down – there are other projects still taking place there. The Tevatron has been a huge part of Fermilab’s scientific program over the last few decades, though, and we should celebrate all its successes!

I did my Ph.D. research with the CDF Collaboration at Fermilab, using data delivered by the Tevatron. I even lived on the lab site for two years, in “the Michigan house,” which was a house full of Michigan graduate students. One thing I remember fondly about living at the lab was playing softball there (on the site! – go Springfield Isotopes!) and having after-game BBQ’s at our house.

I’m sad to be missing what promises to be a great farewell BBQ for the Tevatron at Fermilab tomorrow, but people everywhere will be raising a toast as they send around the last beams. I have an email in my inbox from friends at CERN, many of whom did their Ph.D. research at Fermilab like I did, having a farewell party tonight. They’ve even invented a signature cocktail, called the Transatlantic Shot Setup. I’ll be toasting with my family in sunny Florida, where we’re all together for my cousin’s wedding.

To explain how “shot setup” is related to Fermilab, I found this quote from an interview with Duke professor (and CDF and ATLAS collaborator) Mark Kruse.

Interviewer: What does doing your research look like?

MARK: So in the control room, things are most active during so-called “shot setup.” So “shot setup” is when the Tevatron has accumulated bunches of protons and anti-protons, injects them into the Tevatron accelerator, starts to accelerate them in opposite directions. And during that time, you’ve got to do various things to the proton/anti-proton beam. But as soon as the beams are stable and of good quality and they start colliding, then we have to be there at that instant in order to determine okay, things are running really well now. And of course during those first instances during “shot setup” and during data collection, it’s those first few minutes in essence that we have to keep a very close eye on how the detectors are performing.

For everyone that has spent time in the CDF or D0 control rooms and everyone who would have liked to, I give you:

=== The Transatlantic Shot Setup ===
A signature Tevatron shutdown cocktail
courtesy of Corrinne Mills (fellow blogger and fellow former Springfield Isotope) et al.

3 parts bourbon
1 part green Chartreuse
1 generous part lemon juice
0.5 parts simple syrup or to taste

Shake in a cocktail shaker and pour into glasses. Top with seltzer/sparkling water. For a non-transatlantic shot setup, you can leave out the French Chartreuse and stick with the American bourbon.


P.S. – Want to watch the events at Fermilab today? From 2 pm Central time, you can watch the broadcast online!

P.P.S – Here you can see some of the transatlantic celebrators from the CDF collaboration — all at CERN now!




almost superluminal physics chatter

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Everyone is talking about a new result that will be released soon, claiming the observation of neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light. A seminar is scheduled for Friday at 4 pm at CERN to discuss the results. Because I work on the ATLAS experiment at CERN, and CERN is in a lot of the headlines, I’ve gotten a bunch of emails/IM/Google+ questions in the last few hours, which mostly boil down to: “Is this thing real?!?” I don’t know if it’s real, but here is what I do know.

The best story I’ve seen so far is Can Neutrinos Move Faster Than Light?, where the experiment is described this way:

The data come from a 1300-metric-ton particle detector named Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus (OPERA). Lurking in Italy’s subterranean Gran Sasso National Laboratory, OPERA detects neutrinos that are fired through the earth from the European particle physics laboratory, CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland. As the particles hardly interact at all with other matter, they stream right through the ground, with only a very few striking the material in the detector and making a noticeable shower of particles.

Over 3 years, OPERA researchers timed the roughly 16,000 neutrinos that started at CERN and registered a hit in the detector. They found that, on average, the neutrinos made the 730-kilometer, 2.43-millisecond trip roughly 60 nanoseconds faster than expected if they were traveling at light speed. “It’s a straightforward time-of-flight measurement,” says Antonio Ereditato, a physicist at the University of Bern and spokesperson for the 160-member OPERA collaboration. “We measure the distance and we measure the time, and we take the ratio to get the velocity, just as you learned to do in high school.” Ereditato says the uncertainty in the measurement is 10 nanoseconds

Thing 1) The first thing I want to see is a paper explaining what the scientists who performed this measurement did. So far, no one I know has seen a paper, only news articles are available, and they don’t have enough detail to evaluate what was done. Ideally, this paper would be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal and accepted by a journal before everyone gets too excited.

Thing 2) The most important part of the paper we want to see will explain how the uncertainty on the measurement was obtained. Whether or not the result is exciting will depend on how well they can measure the speed of the neutrinos. In the same article linked above, this explanation is given by an expert in the field working at a different lab:

Jung, who is spokesperson for a similar experiment in Japan called T2K, says the tricky part is accurately measuring the time between when the neutrinos are born by slamming a burst of protons into a solid target and when they actually reach the detector. That timing relies on the global positioning system, and the GPS measurements can have uncertainties of tens of nanoseconds. “I would be very interested in how they got a 10-nanosecond uncertainty, because from the systematics of GPS and the electronics, I think that’s a very hard number to get.”

Thing 3) After reading the paper, the next thing we’ll think about is how other experiments can measure the same thing. In another good article from today, with a link to an actual paper, MINOS results from Fermilab are discussed. MINOS also measured their neutrinos going faster than expected a few years ago, but they didn’t claim that they had enough resolution to make a definitive statement. To compare with the 10 nanosecond number above, the MINOS paper quotes an uncertainty of 64 nanoseconds. If the OPERA experiment measured the same thing – the neutrinos going 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light – with a 64 nanosecond uncertainty instead, then the result would be consistent with the expectation and no news at all. We can also compare to the data from neutrinos coming from supernovas, which Matt Strassler discusses in his blog post.

I’ll certainly be tuned in early tomorrow morning (for me, on West Coast time) to see what the OPERA folks have to say, but so far the physicists I know haven’t been too kind. On various social networking sites, these (unnamed) friends have been making comments like “Time to work on neutrinos! That… or laugh when some systematic effect is discovered in a few months.” or “The OPERA Spokesman feels the need to personally announce their result to Reuters before the CERN press release and the paper out. Weird!” One friend sums up his feelings succinctly this way: “superluminal neutrinos my @%$.”

Update! The OPERA paper is posted here: http://arxiv.org/abs/1109.4897 — time to read it and see what it says.


Sights and sounds of the ATLAS cavern

Friday, March 27th, 2009

One of my favorite things about moving to CERN two years ago was being able to work inside the ATLAS detector while it was still being constructed. The first time I went down to see the detector in 2006, I was on an official tour and could only walk around the outside of it. When I returned as a postdoc in 2007, I got to wear a real helmet with a headlamp and climb ladders into the detector itself. I don’t think I stopped smiling the whole day. It was hot down there in the summer, and loud, and sometimes dim in the place where you wished there was more light (hence the headlamp), but I had a lot of fun being there.

inside ATLAS

When I recently discovered Peter McCready’s website with images of the ATLAS cavern, the thing that impressed me most was the sound associated with the images. It’s not much, but the background noise of clanking and hammering really took me back to the days I spent there. On his site, you, too, can visit the ATLAS cavern and hear the sounds of the work being done. Use your mouse to look around, as though you are turning your head left, right, up or down.  You can also look down the length of the Large Hadron Collider tunnel.  In one image of the CMS detector, you can see the pipe that the LHC beam will go through, as though it is above your head!  You can also click to the next image using the black arrows to the left and right to see more of CMS, ATLAS, and the LHC.


ATLAS meeting near the ATLAS mountains

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

Welcome to LAr week

I arrived this morning in Marrakech, Morocco, for ATLAS’s “Liquid Argon Week.” No, we’re not going out in search of liquid argon in the desert. I’m going to meet up with colleagues that I work with to make sure our part of ATLAS is ready go when the first collisions of the LHC take place.

The ATLAS experiment has many different pieces, and each piece measures different aspects of the collisions provided by the accelerator. The piece that I work on is called the Liquid Argon Calorimeter. A calorimeter is a device that measures energy. Ours is called the “Liquid Argon” (abbreviated to “LAr”) calorimeter because liquid argon is the substance inside the detector that lets us know that particles passed through it. As particles from the LHC collisions enter the argon, they ionize the argon and we can infer the energy of the particles from the ions they left behind. Argon is usually a gas at room temperature, but the gas would not be dense enough to help us measure the energy well. We have to cool the argon to -186 degrees Celsius (about -300 degrees F) to use it in ATLAS! If you want to learn more about how the calorimeter works, I recommend this video which explains many of the ATLAS subsystems with great illustrations. There are actually four different types of liquid argon calorimeters used in ATLAS, but they share many of the same tools and challenges, so all the people working on those detectors form the “Liquid Argon Calorimeter Group” within ATLAS.

People who work on these calorimeters get together every few months to share their progress and make plans for the future. The same thing is done for other systems of ATLAS: there is a “muon detector week” and an “inner detector week” and then there are weeks for all of ATLAS to get together. Usually these weeks are at held at CERN, but once a year, they may be held outside CERN. The outside-of-CERN weeks give one of the groups a chance to show their colleagues around their home town. It also gives people from that area a break from travelling all the way to CERN. Being away also allows/forces people to get away from their usual offices, tasks, and social circles at CERN. There are scheduled talks, and a lot of other important and useful discussions take place over coffee (or mint tea!) or lunch or dinner while people are away
from home, together.

This week, our Liquid Argon Calorimeter colleagues from Morocco have invited us all to meet in Marrakech. We’ll have four days of meetings on different topics relating to the calorimeters, and then a free day at the end of the week for exploring. There will be a big dinner one night with Moroccan food — I’m looking forward to that!


What is it that you do, exactly?

Friday, January 16th, 2009

During the holidays, many of my colleagues working at CERN and I went home, where we encountered aunts and grandpas, parents and friends, all with the the same questions to be answered: What it is that you do? Is that the black hole thing? OK, right, physics… but what is your actual JOB?

While I was in the US, I went to visit a high school class near Rochester, NY. One of the most important things I thought I could explain to the students there was how researchers at CERN become researchers at CERN. That’s something I didn’t understand at all when I was choosing a career path, and it helps explain a little about what it is that we do everyday.

A disclaimer: People take all kinds of paths to become researchers at CERN, but there is one standard path, and that’s what I’ll describe. There are, of course, many variations on this theme — my own path wasn’t exactly what I’ll describe here. I’ll also talk mostly about the way it works in the US — it is similar in many other countries, but with subtle differences in years, titles, etc.

Here, then, is my guide for families, friends, and particle physics enthusiastics to what it is that many of us do.

Step 1. College, AKA “Undergrad.” This one is pretty well understood. Most physicists working at CERN went through four (or more…) years of college, with a physics degree or some other related science degree. In the four years of classes, students should learn the basic physics and math tools that they’ll need. In addition to taking classes, many people also start to do research with a professor at their university. This professor is someone who does research in addition to teaching. He or she is actively engaged in answering some question that no one has answered before, working in a lab on campus, or working as part of a big collaboration like the ones we have at CERN.

Step 2. Graduate school, AKA “Doctorate” AKA “Ph.D.” After finishing college, most people who want to do research (in any field, not just physics!) apply to graduate school. It’s usually a good idea to go to a different university for graduate school, to experience a new place and meet new people. The first one to two years of grad school in the US feels a lot like undergrad, only more so: classes, projects and papers, exams. Each university has a different set of exams for physics students to pass, before they can focus all their time on research. During the time that students are taking classes, they are also usually teaching classes at the university. They may be supervising labs, grading, or teaching small sections of a bigger lecture class once a week. Physics grad students may also get started doing research right away with a group of people at their university. This means that most science grad students are not paying to go to school like law students or medical students — they are getting their tuition covered, and getting paid, by teaching or by doing research.

After the classes are over, graduate students in physics focus on research. They have one or more advisors, who study a topic that the student also wants to become an expert in. The average physics Ph.D. is about six years, so people may spend 2 years on classes and then four years on research. This is one of the most misunderstood parts of science grad school, I think. After those first few years, grad school is a lot like a regular job. You don’t have any more classes, you do work, you get paid, and your tuition is paid by the research group.

The culmination of a Ph.D. in any area is the thesis. In this document, the student puts together their contribution to their field: their advancement of the knowledge in their research area. They should present a new idea, or answer a question no one has ever answered, or write about a new measurement they’ve done. The thesis is judged by a committee of professors including the student’s advisor, and once it is done, the degree of “Doctorate” is awarded and people joke around with you for a while calling you “Doctor” and asking if there’s a Doctor in the house.

One tip for family and friends of graduate students: The question that no one near the end of the Ph.D. wants to be asked is “When will you be done?” It may seem like polite chit-chat to you, but it may be a wrenching topic for them. There is no set schedule for a Ph.D. to finish. Ph.D.’s are not necessarily awarded in the spring, or in the fall, it doesn’t come everyone after a set number of years like 4, 5, or 6. It’s a decision made by the students and the advisors, when they
all feel like the work they are doing is ready. Asking people when they’ll finish only reminds them that they may not know THEMSELVES when they’ll be finished, and that’s often frustrating.

Step 3. Postdoctoral Research Scientist AKA “Postdoc.” This is the job that I have now. After finishing a Ph.D. in partiçle physics, people who want to continue doing research usually take a job at a university or lab called a “postdoc.” There’s a pretty seamless transition from grad school to being a postdoc, because postdocs also do research — similar to the last 4 or so years fo grad school. In our field, people usually take a job at a different university than the one where they were a Ph.D. student, and they keep the job there for about 4-5 years, with a bit of variation on the term (sometimes 3 years, or as many as 7…). Postdocs are often put in charge of bigger projects, and do more mentoring of grad students. Postdocs also have more choice about which topics to work on.

Step 4. Faculty member or Researcher at a Lab. After being a postdoc, physicists staying in the field apply for research positions at labs, like Brookhaven National Lab where Peter works, or they apply for research or faculty jobs at universities. Both offer opportunities for continuing research, and faculty members teach classes as well. (Sometimes research associates teach, too.) Once you have this position, you still have to deal with getting tenure if you want to stick around. I remember listening to a very interesting NPR interview with a Harvard biology professor whose students couldn’t believe that she still had things to worry about — the job she had as Harvard Professor was her goal, wasn’t it? She explained that she still had a lot to do if she wanted to STAY a Harvard Professor. The whole interview about her career and passion for deadly mushrooms is online.

Hopefully, this will give you some context for the posts here, written by people at the grad student, postdoc, and researcher/faculty levels, and some idea of the paths we’ve taken to get here.


Meet some Atom Smashers

Monday, November 24th, 2008

This week on television, there is a movie that should delight US LHC blog fans. It’s about the particle physics community in the US, at Fermilab, and the work people are doing there. Also, a lot of friends of mine are in it! :)

From what I’ve read on the website and seen in the preview of the film, the film focuses on the people doing research at Fermilab and the circumstances they find themselves in: the kinds of questions they want to answer, the position of Fermilab researchers as the LHC starts up, the worries people have about funding and the future of the field.

It looks like the movie has some similar goals to this blog — showing not just the science, but the people behind the science. From the movie’s blog, one of the filmmakers describes his interactions with audiences at the screenings this way:

There is a consistency in the questions we’re asked, whether in Chicago, Vancouver, or Norway. One of the first to come up is “where did you find this topic?” Often the way the question is asked implies “where in the world did you find this topic?” Or even “what on earth were you thinking?”

It seems to be a predictable pattern: the general public is astonished to find that a) scientists are people not that different from everyone else, and b) that their lives involve exciting stories. It reveals the extent of the disconnect many people seem to have regarding science…

“The Atom Smashers” starts tomorrow, Tuesday, in most cities, so set your VCR/TiVo/tune in if you can! You can find out when the film is airing on PBS stations near you by checking this website.


On science education spending

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

Even across an ocean, people at CERN spend a lot of time talking about the US elections. A lot of us are American, and many non-Americans consider the election vital to their own countries’ well-being. We’ve been watching the debates on youtube, and reading our favorite websites, like Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight. He explains what he’s doing with the polling data in detail that’s really appealing to geeks like us. :)

When I had lunch with Ken this week, some friends joined us and we spent a lot of the lunch talking about the election. At some point, Ken said, “OK, OK, I know about all this stuff… tell me more about what’s going on at CERN.” It’s fairly likely that he could have been having the same discussion back at his university in Nebraska, and he came to CERN to get caught up on things here instead. I can’t blame him — sometimes I feel like the election is taking up a lot of my brain.

One detail that I’ve gotten a few emails about this week was the now-famous “$3 million overhead projector” that McCain has referred to in the last two debates. Scientists everywhere are spreading the story that the projector is not a simple one used in a classroom — it’s the projector that creates the night sky at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. The planetarium is a National Historic Landmark, the first planetarium in the Western hemisphere when it was built. I’ve been there, to see Lisa Randall give a talk when she was touring around for her book “Warped Passages.” It’s an awesome place. You can read more about the debate controversy here.

overhead projector?
Image from Alder Planetarium press kit

People are certainly free to disagree whether federal or local or private funds should cover projects like this one, visited by millions of people including schoolchildren from many states and countries. One thing that’s clear to me, though, is that it is *not* a waste of money.


Particle Physics Nobels!

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

This week the Nobel Prize for Physics was given to three theorists in our field: Nambu, Kobayashi, and Maskawa. If you want to read more about them, the science behind their discoveries, or the coverage of the award, I recommend this post on the Knight Science Journalism Tracker. You can also check out the post on Cosmic Variance, which discusses some of the controversy in the physics community over this award and has a link to a good explanation of spontaneous symmetry breaking.


Hello World

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

spoons copic michael and the Alps

Hello World! I another new US LHC blogger, drafted by my friend and ATLAS Control Room buddy, Monica Dunford. That’s me in the picture above, next to Mont Blanc, my husband Dan Spoonhower, and our friend Michael. I’m a postdoc for Columbia University, working on the ATLAS experiment, and I’ve been working at and living near CERN for over a year.

I was working in the ATLAS control room a few weeks ago the day that the LHC had its … major malfunctions. I had been hoping that we might have the first collisions that weekend. I was sitting at the same desk that Adam had been sitting at, waiting and hoping the week before.  Instead of waiting for collisions after the news came in, we were waiting for more details and talking amongst ourselves. There were a bunch of people in the control room that I knew, from working on ATLAS or from previous jobs. Each person could provide a different perspective, and talking to people got me thinking about the small world of High Energy Physics. It’s true that we work with thousands of scientists on ATLAS and CMS, but we get used to seeing a lot of the same faces around.

For example, Monica was in the control room that weekend, too. I work on ATLAS with a few of the bloggers on this site: Monica, Adam and Seth. Working at the same desk with me that weekend was my friend Louise, and it happened that she knew Monica not because they both work on ATLAS, but from their previous experiment, SNO. Before coming to CERN, I had been working at Fermilab, outside of Chicago, and many people at other desks in the control room that weekend had been Fermilab folks, too.

Some familiar people to readers of this blog, Steve and Ken, were also colleagues of mine at Fermilab on the CDF experiment. I worked in the same group at the University of Michigan with Ken, while he was a postdoc and I was a graduate student. Steve worked with a different group, but he was one of the people that I remember hanging around the CDF control room all the time. He helped answer my questions when I spent my first summer there as a student. Now, I’ve become the postdoc who is hanging around the ATLAS control room all the time, trying to answer other people’s questions. Ken and Steve and I have gone from CDF collaborators to (good-natured!) ATLAS-CMS competitors.

Even people that I didn’t work much with, I still saw around — I remember going to a Chicago Cubs game a few years ago with another CMS blogger, Freya, and some mutual friends.  More recently, in Geneva, when friends of mine were looking for a used sofa for their new apartment, I went with them to help move the sofa they had found online. It turned out to be Freya’s sofa! Of course. It is a small world after all…