Hi, I'm Richard! I am a Ph.D. student at the University of Pittsburgh helping to develop new ways to test theories at the Large Hadron Collider (more on this in a bit). The way I remember things, I developed an interest in science at a really young age thanks to the fact that I grew up in Los Angeles, California, not too far from where equipment for NASA's Shuttle program were manufactured. Every time my dad drove past the building he would tell me all about the awesome things NASA did. How could someone not want learn everything there is to know about the universe after growing up with that?
Officially, I got into the particle physics business the day when I asked my high school chemistry teacher, “What do you mean energy is 'quantized?'” Yeah ... Several exams and a college degree later I still ask myself that same question but in a whole different context. The absolute, most exciting thing about asking those questions is that with the Large Hadron Collider we can answer a some of them. The Large Hadron Collider, a.k.a. the LHC, is a science experiment that speeds up the nuclei of hydrogen atoms and then collides them into each other. It sits right under the Swiss-French boarder, not too far from Geneva, Switzerland, and allows us to see what the universe was like moments after the Big Bang.
At the University of Chicago, where I did my undergrad, I was a member of the Compact Muon Solenoid Experiment, or CMS for short, and is one of the two giant, general-purpose collision detectors at the LHC. By “general-purpose,” I mean capable of studying all the physics associated with colliding matter. This differs from other LHC experiments like the LHCb detector, for example, which was primarily built to study b-quarks and CP violation. While with CMS, I was a part of a team looking for the Z' (pronounced: Zee prime) boson, and got to know the detector very well. Having worked on the experiment for so long, it was a humbling experience to finally see the five-story, 12,000 ton detector in person.
Even though I loved working on CMS, and experiments in general (I had a lot of fun measuring the mean lifetime of the muon in my undergraduate physics lab), I am a theorist when it comes down to it. This brings me to collider phenomenology: the sub-sub-field of physics in which I am pursuing my Ph.D. Over the last few decades, a lot of physics theories have been proposed (like the Higgs!) to answer the many remaining questions we still have about the universe. Unfortunately, a lot of these theories “look” and “smell” alike. Collider phenomenologists come up with ways to discern which theory best describes the data we collect from our atom smashers.
Like my fellow Quantum Diaries bloggers, I like physics, a lot. It is the sort of thing I really can go on and on for hours at a time. When not posting on here, I maintain a science outreach Twitter account. You can find me on at @bravelittlemuon. Be sure to say hi.