## USLHC | USA

### Higgs to light video comes to light

Ken Bloom
Thursday, January 31st, 2013

Just a quick note here on something that isn’t really mine: CMS has now released some video footage from the internal meetings where the results of the search for a Higgs particle decaying to a pair of photons (light) were first presented to the collaboration. I think it’s pretty interesting to watch this little bit of science history.

Here is the context: the Higgs searches were done “blind”, in that every little bit of the analysis was done without examining the actual detector data sample where the Higgs might be observed. Using simulations and data samples that are similar to, but not actually, the data in question are used to design the Higgs search, to understand what the experimental uncertainties are, and to give an expectation of what would be seen in the data if there were a Higgs (or not). Everyone avoids looking at the key data samples to avoid biasing the search based on what is seen. (The fear is that if you see a small signal, you might start to make changes in the analysis to enhance the signal…which could turn out to be a statistical fluctuation in the end.)

Then, in the late stages of the data analysis, we finally take a look at the “signal” sample. Of course, someone has to be the first person to do this, which means that for a brief moment, that’s the only person in the world who knows a new scientific fact. And then there is a lot of suspense for everyone else! In the video, someone who was among the first to see the result, just hours beforehand, is presenting it to the rest of the collaboration. You can certainly see how excited the presenters are about that moment.

I suppose there isn’t any suspense now, since we know what the answer is, but try to put yourself in the mindset of the audience in the room…and enjoy!

### Tweeting the Higgs

Aidan Randle-Conde
Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

Back in July two seminars took place that discussed searches for the Higgs boson at the Tevatron and the LHC. After nearly 50 years of waiting an announcement of a $$5\sigma$$ signal, enough to claim discovery, was made and all of a sudden the twitter world went crazy. New Scientist presented an analysis of the tweets by Domenico et al. relating to the Higgs in their Short Sharp Scient article Twitter reveals how Higgs gossip reached fever pitch. I don’t want to repeat what is written in the article, so please take a few minutes to read it and watch the video featured in the article.

The distribution of tweets around the July 2nd and July 4th announcements (note the log scale)

Instead of focusing on the impressive number of tweets and how many people were interested in the news I think it’s more useful for me as a blogger to focus on how this gossip was shared with the world. The Higgs discovery was certainly not the only exciting physics news to come out of 2012, and the main reason for this is the jargon that was used. People were already familiar with acronyms such as CERN and LHC. The name “Higgs” was easy to remember (for some reason many struggled with “boson”, calling it “bosun”, or worse) and, much to physicists’ chagrin, “God particle” made quite a few appearances too. It seems that the public awareness was primed and ready to receive the message. There were many fellow bloggers who chose to write live blogs and live tweet the event (I like to think that I started bit of a trend there, with the OPERA faster than light neutrinos result, but that’s probably just wishful thinking!) Following the experiences of December 2011, when the webcast failed to broadcast properly for many users had twitter on standby, with tweets already composed, hungry for numbers. The hashtags were decided in advance and after a little jostling for the top spot it was clear which ones were going to be the most popular. Despite all the preparation we still saw huge numbers of #comicsans tweets. Ah well, we can’t win them all!

The point is that while the world learned about the Higgs results I think it’s just as important that we (the physicists) learn about the world and how to communicate effectively. This time we got it right, and I’m glad to see that it got out of our control as well. Our tweets went out, some questions were asked and points clarified and the news spread. I’m not particularly fond of the phrase “God particle” , but I’m very happy that it made a huge impact, carrying the message further and reaching more people than the less sensational phrase “Higgs boson”. Everyone knows who God is, but who is Higgs? I think that this was a triumph in public communication, something we should be building on. Social media technologies are changing more quickly each year, so we need to keep up.

A map of retweets on July 4th, showing the global spread.

I’m glad to see more physicists using Twitter and youtube and other sites to spread the word because that’s where we can build audiences faster. (Incidentally if you want to see why we should be creating new audiences rather than addressing existing ones then see this video by Vihart.) It takes more work and it’s more experimental, but it’s worth the effort. Why did I make an advent calendar? Why tell physics jokes on Twitter? Just to see what works and what doesn’t. I’m not the first person to do these things, and I’m certainly not going to be the last. All I can hope to do is try new ideas out and give other people ideas. I don’t know the people I inspire and those I am inspired by, but that’s also part of the experiment. A lot of my ideas come from people who leave comments or send E-mails or tweets. Occasionally it gets heated and controversial, but if it’s not worth fighting for then it’s not worth saying in the first place. Many comments come from other bloggers too, and we can learn from each other. When I first started to blog someone sent me a few paragraphs of advice and I forgot most of it except one part “Ignore other people’s expectations. Some people will want you to always write about physics, some people will hate that. Write what matters to you.” When I combine that with what Vihart says (essentially “If your content is worth attention then people will pay attention to it.”) then rest is easy. Well, not easy, but less stressful.

But moving back to the main point, the Higgs tweets went global and viral because they were well prepared and the names were simple. Other news included things like the search for the $$B_s$$ meson decaying to two muons and the limits that places on SUSY, but how does one make a hashtag for that? I would not want to put the hashtag #bs on my life’s work. It’s always more exciting to announce a discovery than an exclusion too. The measurement of $$\theta_{13}$$ was just as exciting in my opinion, but that also suffered the same problem. How is the general public supposed to interpret a Greek character and two numbers? I should probably point out that this is all to do with finding the right jargon for the public, and not about the public’s capacity to understand abstract concepts (a capacity which is frequently underestimated.) Understanding how $$\theta_{13}$$ fits in the PMNS mixing matrix is no more difficult than understanding the Higgs mechanism (in fact it’s easier!) It’s just that there’s no nice nomenclature to help spread the news, and that’s something that we need to fix as soon as possible.

As a side note, $$\theta_{13}$$ is important because it tells us about how the neutrinos mix. Neutrino mixing is beyond the Standard Model physics, so we should be getting more excited about it! If $$\theta_{13}$$ is non-zero then that means that we can put another term into the matrix and this fourth term is what gives us matter-antimatter asymmetry in the lepton sector, helping to explain why we still have matter hanging around in the universe, why we have solid things instead of just heat and light. Put like that is sounds more interesting and newsworthy, but that can’t be squeezed into a tweet, let alone a hashtag. It’s a shame that result didn’t get more attention.

It’s great fun and a fine challenge to be part of this whole process. We are co-creators, exploring the new media together. Nobody knows what will work in the near future, but we can look back what has already worked, and see how people passed on the news. Making news no longer stops once I hit “Publish”, it echoes around the world, through your tweets, and reblogs, and we can see its journey. If we’re lucky it gets passed on enough to go viral, and then it’s out of our control. It’s this kind of interactivity that it so rewarding and engaging.

You can read the New Scientist article or the original paper on the arXiV.

Thanks for reading!

### 2013: The road ahead

Aidan Randle-Conde
Monday, December 31st, 2012

This time last year I wrote a blog post about what 2011 delivered and what to expect for 2012. It was obvious that we’d get some answers on the Higgs question, so it’s no surprise that we saw some 5 sigma bumps in there. As Rolf Heuer, Director General of CERN said it was a “vintage year” for physics, which I think means “very good”. Personally I think that the choice of word “vintage” is a bit anticlimactic. Surely a vintage anything is best enjoyed after several years have passed, if you have the money for it? It would have been nicer to see a word that reflected the current excitement of being a part of the discovery and seeing physics a living field, rather than comparing it to a bottle of dusty (though very tasty) wine at the back of a cellar somewhere. Oh well, maybe I’m reading too much into one word. Rolf’s article gives a very nice overview of 2012. In short, 2012 was brilliant and delivered as promised.

As usual, the end of the year also marks the end of the LHC run. In 2012 the LHC was ramping up for another year of proton collisions. This year it’s ramping up for weeks heavy ion physics, and then the long shutdown. Long shutdown. There’s so much meaning in those two words. No more data for two years. What will we do with that time? Will people flee from the field? (That would make it easier for the remaining physicists to find good positions!) Will we re-analyze the existing data? Will we work hard on the hardware? Will we revise our theories? First things first: early in 2013 we’ll need to deal with the rest of the Higgs questions for the Moriond conference. Some questions will have to wait to be answered, but most of them can be addressed with the data we have. What are the final states and branching fractions? Can we get a handle on the spin and parity? Do the production mode rates look right? We can get answers to most of these questions and that would be enough to confirm that what we have seen is the Standard Model Higgs boson. If one value comes out significantly “wrong” at both ATLAS and CMS then we’ve got new physics on our hands.

That’s what I’m hoping for. That’s what nearly everyone is hoping for. I hope 2013 is the year that the Standard Model gets broken. I want to see that model fall apart and leave a big new physics shaped hole for us to fill. If we get a Higgs boson and new phenomena then the 2015 data will be worth the wait. The nightmare scenario is seeing the Standard Model Higgs and nothing else. That would be like Columbus sailing West and getting to India. Impressive, somewhat reassuring, but ultimately disappointing. I don’t want a easy route to an old question, I want a whole new continent of discovery. It worked very well for us last time! I don’t know what a discovery of that kind would look like. It would have be in the dataset somewhere though, and once the pressure from the Higgs searches dies down we’ll have a lot more time and labor to look at the data with fresh eyes and comb it for new processes. Keeping the pace going for analysis during the shutdown will be hard, but worth the effort. There will be no media frenzy, the world will not be watching over our collective shoulders. Instead it will be a quieter process, a time to reflect on the implications of what we’re unwinding and what it is telling us.

2012, you’ve been great, but it’s time to move on. Bring it on 2013. Change the landscape for us all over again and tell us where to take the field in the next few years. Enjoy the hibernation, LHC, 2015 will be rough on you.

And of course Happy New Year to all!

### What Went on My Research Page

Seth Zenz
Sunday, December 30th, 2012

Remember when I was wondering, “What Goes on My Research Page?” Well, I finally decided what to put on it and got it posted:

Seth Zenz – Princeton University Department of Physics

Let me know what you think!

### Merry Christmas!

Aidan Randle-Conde
Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

Merry Christmas to all!

More about the Sesame experiment:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-20533763

http://www.sesame.org.jo/sesame/

Back when I was a Higgs skeptic:

http://www.quantumdiaries.org/2011/09/08/higgs-skeptic/

### Advent Calendar 2012 December 24th

Aidan Randle-Conde
Monday, December 24th, 2012

Where was the Higgs boson hiding? We searched or it directly and indirectly. Now that we have the answer, we can look indirectly for other things!

Electroweak fit: http://arxiv.org/abs/1107.0975

### Advent Calendar 2012 December 23rd

Aidan Randle-Conde
Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

Particle physics is awesome enough all by itself. It gets even more awesome when we see the spin off technologies that have been developed over the decades!

The basics of radiation and hadron therapy are summed up quite well on wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/External_beam_radiotherapy

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Particle_therapy

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proton_therapy

Images taken from:
Bragg peak: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:BraggPeak.png
Paul Scherrer Institut gantry: http://www.psi.ch/history-of-psi
Radiative therapy dose map: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360301607005068

### Advent Calendar 2012 December 22nd

Aidan Randle-Conde
Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

What is cooler than cooling? Stochastic cooling!

A nice paper on stochastic cooling: http://arxiv.org/pdf/physics/0308044.pdf
Wiki page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stochastic_cooling

### The Boy Scientist

Emily Thompson
Friday, December 21st, 2012

I’m back home in Southern California for the holidays, and have been enjoying the sunshine in December, filling up on cheap tacos, sushi, avocados, and doing all the things I miss when living in Switzerfrance (to be fair, the day I get back to CERN I’ll probably be filling up on wine, cheese, go for a walk by the lake and do all the things I miss after a prolonged visit to the US). A few days ago was a special treat—I went for a visit with my college buddy to the California Science Center to see the Endeavour Space Shuttle installation.

A computer scientist and a particle physicist visit the Endeavour Space Shuttle

Last October, winding its way through Los Angeles, the Endeavour was towed slowly past familiar landmarks and ultimately to its last resting place in Exposition Park just south of Downtown. I watched a lot of it from Switzerland, feeling nostalgic, and remembered watching lift-offs from Cape Canaveral on the television when I was still just a small kid. Even as a scientist now, it’s still inexplicably mind-blowing to think we live in a period of history when we can send humans into space.

Of course at the end of the day, after playing around with all the other exhibits, we headed into the gift store to check out all the cool science toys. In the books section, I happened to see this:

Turning to the forward, the last sentence read “So turn the page and begin your experimenting here with the fantastic projects and exciting, new discoveries every boy scientist should know.”

me: “huh. That’s weird. [puzzled]. Maybe they ran out of ‘The Girl Scientist’”
friend: “What would be the difference?”

So I came home and googled “The Boy Scientist” to see what this series was all about. Turns out there isn’t even book for girl scientists. They do have a book entitled “The Girl Mechanic”, with this blurb on Amazon.com:

“Classic girl power is finally here! Females of all ages will celebrate the first just-for-girls entry in the Popular Mechanics classic activity series. Like its predecessors, The Girl Mechanic presents time-tested projects that build skills, enhance creativity, and provide hours of pleasure. We’ve featured choice ideas for crafts, toys, furniture, sports, and games. The standout items include doll houses (one has an actual working elevator!), jewelry boxes, picture frames, playhouses, Christmas cards, and so much more. Some activities a child can do alone, others require a parent’s help, but all of them offer a charming glimpse at the handy world of our past—and give girls essential knowledge that will last a lifetime.”

Way to go, Popular Mechanics, finally publishing classic girl power in 2009! I didn’t have this book growing up, and admittedly, I feel lacking in essential doll-house- and jewelry-box-building knowledge. What do Boy Mechanics learn?

(from Amazon.com) “It’s vintage boyhood and a miscellany of marvelous ideas: from kites and toboggans to workbenches and birdhouses, this collection of projects from Popular Mechanics’ issues of long ago captures all the appeal of American ingenuity at the start of the last century.

With the rawest of materials, a minimum of technology, and a maximum of ingenuity, men and boys in the early 1900s dedicated themselves to crafting wonderful items, both practical and fanciful. It was a highly valued skill that revealed the measure of a man, and Popular Mechanics honored it and led the way in instructing these handy creators. Take a look back at those simpler, good old days—and at what we may have lost in our high-tech era—through these engaging projects, all published in the magazine during the first two decades of the 20th century. The range is simply amazing, and bound to appeal to woodworkers who love classic ideas. They include tools, like T-squares and sawhorses; an animal-proof gate latch and a birdhouse made from an old straw hat; household gadgets and handcrafted furniture; camping gear (including a screen door for a tent); and toys and games. And many of these appealing trellises, decoys, puzzles, and tents are quite doable today. Inveterate do-it-yourselfers will be astonished at the resourcefulness required to build a stove for a canoe and even a houseboat.”

(also here's a fun sociological experiment: try to google-image search "the boy mechanic" and then "the girl mechanic")

Well gee, that sounds like waay more fun…to me anyway. Digging further in to see what Popular Mechanics was all about, I had a look at the editors page:

Well, OK, everyone knows this is a magazine by men, for men. This doesn’t bother me…there are plenty of magazines targeted just to the women demographic. On their site, they write: “Our typical reader is male, about 37 years old, married with a couple of kids, owns his own home and several cars, makes a good salary and probably works in a technically oriented profession.”

But this one book in the California Science Center really irked me…what makes something a “boy” project or a “girl” project? Blue vs pink?

One of the first toys I remember having as a small child was a paper model of the solar system that I could lay out on the floor and learn the order of the planets. Later I had legos, a chemistry set and build-it-yourself robot kits. My dad let me use all the tools in his garage workbench, and when I was old enough, he taught me how to use power tools. My mom took me to summer classes at the Youth Science Center, a local K-8 extracurricular program, where I got to hold snakes and tarantulas, make a working electromagnet and a flashlight, built a model rocket and launched it…and the list goes on. Never once was I labeled as a “girl scientist”. I was always just a scientist.

Emily the JPL rocket scientist, Halloween, age ~10.

A popular explanation for why there aren’t enough women in science cites the lack of role models, but I don’t think this is the fundamental problem. There have been many successful women in science (not saying there shouldn’t be more!): Marie Currie, Jane Goodall, Rosalind Franklin, Sally Ride, just to name a few off the top of my head. And also let’s not forget our ATLAS Spokesperson, Fabiola Gianotti, runner up of Time Magazine’s Person of the Year!

I really think the solution to the gender gap in science and technology disciplines lies with early childhood development. We need more parents inspiring their children like mine did, and as a society, need to admit that there is no place for gender labels which are destructive and backwards-thinking. The Boy Scientist. While standing in the gift shop, I tried to imagine myself as a child seeing that book sitting next to The Girl Mechanic with the doll bed, and I wondered if some small kernel of doubt would have risen up, with my robotics kits and model rockets, that I was not being the pink-loving girl I was supposed to be.

So I still can’t imagine why the California Science Center Explorastore would carry such a book, by editors who while selling “vintage boyhood” are reinforcing vintage gender stereotypes. Isn’t inspiring the next generation of scientists of all genders, races, or backgrounds what a science museum is supposed to be all about? Why take a chance that a young girl on her first trip to see the Endeavour space shuttle could see “The Boy Scientist” and wonder if science is just for the boys, even if only subconsciously planting these kinds of labels in her mind? What would Sally Ride say?

(from www.smbc-comics.com)

### Advent Calendar 2012 December 21st

Aidan Randle-Conde
Friday, December 21st, 2012

How could the LHC cause the end of the world?! Well… it can’t. It poses no threat at all to the fabric of the cosmos.