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Sally Shaw

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Sally Shaw

I’m a second year PhD student in the High Energy Physics group at University College London, although ironically I actually work with very low physics: direct dark matter detection. I am a member of the LUX (Large Underground Xenon detector) and LZ (LUX-ZEPLIN) collaborations. LUX is a world leader in the search for dark matter detection and LZ is a next generation detector planned for operation in 2018; it is a much larger detector that builds on the LUX and ZEPLIN programs.

I did my undergraduate study and masters at the University of Warwick, working on the LHCb experiment at the Large Hadron Collider in my final year and graduating in 2013. Going further back, I was born and raised in Nottingham; joining an experiment that has me repeatedly using the words “LUX” and “pulse” maybe wasn’t ideal, it has led to a lot of giggling at my slightly Northern accent. I am so far enjoying the London life, although I miss the price of a pint in my hometown!

I spend most of my time at my desk at UCL; occasionally I get let out into the real world to travel for conferences and detector shifts. The LUX detector lives in the Homestake Mine in Lead, South Dakota, and I will be taking trips out there occasionally. Working 4,850 feet underground in an ex-goldmine in the American Midwest certainly provides some interesting anecdotes.

My work so far has mainly been on improving LUX’s ability to remove all background noise while leaving any potential signal untouched. Within the field we call this improving the signal identification and event selection processes. For LZ, I am going to be working on background simulations - the background noise must be well-understood in order to know whether you’ve seen dark matter or not. Occasionally I venture reluctantly into the lab to help with R&D for LZ, but being incredibly clumsy I’m not always the best at practical work.

What do I do outside of physics? Usually once or twice a year I suffer for several nights in a hot muddy tent at a music festival in order to see bands - I love music, used to sing in a band and can play a few instruments, but I don’t have much time for that anymore! Other than that, I enjoy going out with friends as well as relaxing with a film or video game. Other things people usually notice about me are that I love pink things (laptop, phone, calculator, external hard drive - you name it, I have it in pink) and I’m a bit of a crazy cat lady, but don’t judge me on that!

The hunt for dark matter can be frustrating sometimes, but it involves excellent physics and the use of amazingly sensitive technology. Furthermore, dark matter seems to attract an enigmatic bunch of people, with a surprising amount of (sometimes healthy, sometimes not) competition between collaborations - but that just makes it all the more interesting. We are right at the forefront of a very exciting area of physics, so stay tuned!