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Posts Tagged ‘Fermilab’

This article appeared in Fermilab Today on July 24, 2014.

Fermilab engineer Jim Hoff has invented an electronic circuit that can guard against radiation damage. Photo: Hanae Armitage

Fermilab engineer Jim Hoff has invented an electronic circuit that can guard against radiation damage. Photo: Hanae Armitage

Fermilab engineer Jim Hoff has received patent approval on a very tiny, very clever invention that could have an impact on aerospace, agriculture and medical imaging industries.

Hoff has engineered a widely adaptable latch — an electronic circuit capable of remembering a logical state — that suppresses a commonly destructive circuit error caused by radiation.

There are two radiation-based errors that can damage a circuit: total dose and single-event upset. In the former, the entire circuit is doused in radiation and damaged; in an SEU, a single particle of radiation delivers its energy to the chip and alters a state of memory, which takes the form of 1s and 0s. Altered states of memory equate to an unintentional shift from logical 1 or logical 0 and ultimately lead to loss of data or imaging resolution. Hoff’s design is essentially a chip immunization, preemptively guarding against SEUs.

“There are a lot of applications,” Hoff said. “Anyone who needs to store data for a length of time and keep it in that same state, uncorrupted — anyone flying in a high-altitude plane, anyone using medical imaging technology — could use this.”

Past experimental data showed that, in any given total-ionizing radiation dose, the latch reduces single-event upsets by a factor of about 40. Hoff suspects that the invention’s newer configurations will yield at least two orders of magnitude in single-event upset reduction.

The invention is fondly referred to as SEUSS, which stands for single-event upset suppression system. It’s relatively inexpensive and designed to integrate easily with a multitude of circuits — all that’s needed is a compatible transistor.

Hoff’s line of work lies in chip development, and SEUSS is currently used in some Fermilab-developed chips such as FSSR, which is used in projects at Jefferson Lab, and Phoenix, which is used in the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

The idea of SEUSS was born out of post-knee-surgery, bed-ridden boredom. On strict bed rest, Hoff’s mind naturally wandered to engineering.

“As I was lying there, leg in pain, back cramping, I started playing with designs of my most recent project at work,” he said. “At one point I stopped and thought, ‘Wow, I just made a single-event upset-tolerant SR flip-flop!’”

While this isn’t the world’s first SEUSS-tolerant latch, Hoff is the first to create a single-event upset suppression system that is also a set-reset flip-flop, meaning it can take the form of almost any latch. As a flip-flop, the adaptability of the latch is enormous and far exceeds that of its pre-existing latch brethren.

“That’s what makes this a truly special latch — its incredible versatility,” says Hoff.

From a broader vantage point, the invention is exciting for more than just Fermilab employees; it’s one of Fermilab’s first big efforts in pursuing potential licensees from industry.

Cherri Schmidt, head of Fermilab’s Office of Partnerships and Technology Transfer, with the assistance of intern Miguel Marchan, has been developing the marketing plan to reach out to companies who may be interested in licensing the technology for commercial application.

“We’re excited about this one because it could really affect a large number of industries and companies,” Schmidt said. “That, to me, is what makes this invention so interesting and exciting.”

Hanae Armitage

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This article appeared in Fermilab Today on July 21, 2014.

Members of the prototype proton CT scanner collaboration move the detector into the CDH Proton Center in Warrenville. Photo: Reidar Hahn

Members of the prototype proton CT scanner collaboration move the detector into the CDH Proton Center in Warrenville. Photo: Reidar Hahn

A prototype proton CT scanner developed by Fermilab and Northern Illinois University could someday reduce the amount of radiation delivered to healthy tissue in a patient undergoing cancer treatment.

The proton CT scanner would better target radiation doses to the cancerous tumors during proton therapy treatment. Physicists recently started testing with beam at the CDH Proton Center in Warrenville.

To create a custom treatment plan for each proton therapy patient, radiation oncologists currently use X-ray CT scanners to develop 3-D images of patient anatomy, including the tumor, to determine the size, shape and density of all organs and tissues in the body. To make sure all the tumor cells are irradiated to the prescribed dose, doctors often set the targeting volume to include a minimal amount of healthy tissue just outside the tumor.

Collaborators believe that the prototype proton CT, which is essentially a particle detector, will provide a more precise 3-D map of the patient anatomy. This allows doctors to more precisely target beam delivery, reducing the amount of radiation to healthy tissue during the CT process and treatment.

“The dose to the patient with this method would be lower than using X-ray CTs while getting better precision on the imaging,” said Fermilab’s Peter Wilson, PPD associate head for engineering and support.

Fermilab became involved in the project in 2011 at the request of NIU’s high-energy physics team because of the laboratory’s detector building expertise.

The project’s goal was a tall order, Wilson explained. The group wanted to build a prototype device, imaging software and computing system that could collect data from 1 billion protons in less than 10 minutes and then produce a 3-D reconstructed image of a human head, also in less than 10 minutes. To do that, they needed to create a device that could read data very quickly, since every second data from 2 million protons would be sent from the device — which detects only one proton at a time — to a computer.

NIU physicist Victor Rykalin recommended building a scintillating fiber tracker detector with silicon photomultipliers. A similar detector was used in the DZero experiment.

“The new prototype CT is a good example of the technical expertise of our staff in detector technology. Their expertise goes back 35 to 45 years and is really what makes it possible for us to do this,” Wilson said.

In the prototype CT, protons pass through two tracking stations, which track the particles’ trajectories in three dimensions. (See figure.) The protons then pass through the patient and finally through two more tracking stations before stopping in the energy detector, which is used to calculate the total energy loss through the patient. Devices called silicon photomultipliers pick up signals from the light resulting from these interactions and subsequently transmit electronic signals to a data acquisition system.

In the prototype proton CT scanner, protons enter from the left, passing through planes of fibers and the patient's head. Data from the protons' trajectories, including the energy deposited in the patient, is collected in a data acquisition system (right), which is then used to map the patient's tissue. Image courtesy of George Coutrakon, NIU

In the prototype proton CT scanner, protons enter from the left, passing through planes of fibers and the patient’s head. Data from the protons’ trajectories, including the energy deposited in the patient, is collected in a data acquisition system (right), which is then used to map the patient’s tissue. Image courtesy of George Coutrakon, NIU

Scientists use specialized software and a high-performance computer at NIU to accurately map the proton stopping powers in each cubic millimeter of the patient. From this map, visually displayed as conventional CT slices, the physician can outline the margins, dimensions and location of the tumor.

Elements of the prototype were developed at both NIU and Fermilab and then put together at Fermilab. NIU developed the software and computing systems. The teams at Fermilab worked on the design and construction of the tracker and the electronics to read the tracker and energy measurement. The scintillator plates, fibers and trackers were also prepared at Fermilab. A group of about eight NIU students, led by NIU’s Vishnu Zutshi, helped build the detector at Fermilab.

“A project like this requires collaboration across multiple areas of expertise,” said George Coutrakon, medical physicist and co-investigator for the project at NIU. “We’ve built on others’ previous work, and in that sense, the collaboration extends beyond NIU and Fermilab.”

Rhianna Wisniewski

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Joe Lykken

Joe Lykken

Joe Lykken is a familiar name not only at Fermilab, where he has worked as a theorist since 1989, but to people across the country who have seen him on PBS or have read his words in Scientific American.

His vast experience in researching and communicating particle physics led Director Nigel Lockyer to select Lykken as Fermilab’s new deputy director. Lykken began in the new position on July 1.

Although Lykken is very familiar with the laboratory’s science, he hopes to become better acquainted with other aspects of Fermilab as he starts out in the directorate role.

“I’m really looking forward to having as many conversations one on one with as many people as I can,” he said.

In helping lead the laboratory, one of Lykken’s tasks will be to implement the P5 vision.

“P5 gave us a very strong push that we want to take advantage of,” he said. Part of that will be to work with international partners to put together the best possible neutrino program, for which LBNE has laid the groundwork, he said.

Implementing the P5 plan also involves communicating Fermilab’s scientific goals with its employees, decision makers and general audiences alike. Lykken is well suited to the task, having become one of the lab’s go-to scientists for talking with the public. He was one of the guest scientists on the PBS television series “The Elegant Universe” and has been interviewed for stories in publications such as The New York Times and Science, as well as on NPR.

“Part of my job is to help both this laboratory and the rest of the world understand Nigel’s vision and the program that we’re trying to implement — our ambitions and dreams,” Lykken said. “I’ll help explain the science, why it’s exciting and how it all fits together. It’s not just a laundry list of topics, but that’s not so obvious to most people.”

Prior to his arrival at the lab, Lykken was at the Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics, having completed his Ph.D. at MIT. Both an APS and a AAAS fellow, he started out at Fermilab as a string theorist and then became more involved in the CMS experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. He continued theoretical work on Higgs physics and supersymmetry while gaining interest in the experimental side.

In addition to his deputy director position, Lykken will serve as the laboratory’s chief research officer; Greg Bock will serve as deputy CRO. Lykken will also continue to work in the Theory Group, supervising postdoctoral students.

“Joe has an envious track record in scientific research as well as in translating science for the public,” said Director Nigel Lockyer. “He is adept at problem solving and enjoys combining his analytic thinking with keen intuition when solving challenging situations — and we have lots of them here at Fermilab for him to practice on. I very much look forward to his talents being applied to helping Fermilab achieve its goals.”

Leah Hesla

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Fermilab published a version of this press release on June 24, 2014.

The 30-ton MicroBooNE neutrino detector is gently lowered into the Liquid-Argon Test Facility at Fermilab on Monday, June 23. The detector will become the centerpiece of the MicroBooNE experiment, which will study ghostly particles called neutrinos. Photo: Fermilab

The 30-ton MicroBooNE neutrino detector is gently lowered into the Liquid-Argon Test Facility at Fermilab on Monday, June 23. The detector will become the centerpiece of the MicroBooNE experiment, which will study ghostly particles called neutrinos. Photo: Fermilab

On Monday, June 23, the next phase of neutrino physics at Fermilab fell (gently) into place.

The MicroBooNE detector – a 30-ton, 40-foot-long cylindrical metal tank designed to detect ghostly particles called neutrinos – was carefully transported by truck across the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermilab site, from an assembly building it was constructed in to the experimental hall three miles away.

The massive detector was then hoisted up with a crane, lowered through the open roof of the building and placed into its permanent home, directly in the path of Fermilab’s beam of neutrinos. There it will become the centerpiece of the MicroBooNE experiment, which will study those elusive particles to crack several big mysteries of the universe.

The MicroBooNE detector has been under construction for nearly two years. The tank contains a 32-foot-long “time projection chamber,” the largest ever built in the United States, equipped with 8,256 delicate gilded wires, which took the MicroBooNE team two months to attach by hand. This machine will allow scientists to further study the properties of neutrinos, particles that may hold the key to understanding many unexplained mysteries of the universe.

“This is a huge day for the MicroBooNE experiment,” said Fermilab’s Regina Rameika, project manager for the MicroBooNE experiment. “We’ve worked hard to create the best scientific instrument that we can. To see it moved into place was a thrill for the entire team.”

The MicroBooNE detector will now be filled with 170 tons of liquid argon, a heavy liquid that will release charged particles when neutrinos interact with it. The detector’s three layers of wires will then capture pictures of these interactions at different points in time and send that information to the experiment’s computers.

Using one of the most sophisticated processing programs ever designed for a neutrino experiment, those computers will sift through the thousands of interactions that will occur every day and create stunning 3-D images of the most interesting ones. The MicroBooNE team will use that data to learn more about how neutrinos change from one type (or “flavor”) to another, and narrow the search for a hypothesized (but as of yet, never observed) fourth type of neutrino.

“The scientific potential of MicroBooNE is really exciting,” said Yale University’s Bonnie Fleming, co-spokesperson for the MicroBooNE experiment. “After a long time spent designing and building the detector, we are thrilled to start taking data later this year.”

MicroBooNE is a cornerstone of Fermilab’s short-baseline neutrino program , which studies neutrinos traveling over shorter distances. (MINOS and NOvA, which send neutrinos through the Earth to Minnesota, are examples of long-baseline experiments.) In its recent report, the Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel (P5) expressed strong support for the short-baseline neutrino program at Fermilab.

The P5 panel was comprised of members of the high-energy physics community. Their report was commissioned by the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel, which advises both the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation on funding priorities.

The detector technology used in designing and building MicroBooNE will serve as a prototype for a much larger long-baseline neutrino facility planned for the United States, to be hosted at Fermilab. The P5 report also strongly supports this larger experiment, which will be designed and funded through a global collaboration.

Read the P5 report.

Fermilab is America’s premier national laboratory for particle physics and accelerator research. A U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science laboratory, Fermilab is located near Chicago, Illinois, and operated under contract by the Fermi Research Alliance, LLC. Visit Fermilab’s website at www.fnal.gov and follow us on Twitter at @FermilabToday.

The DOE Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

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A version of this press release came out on on June 12, 2014.

Pi poles are part of a new exhibit for kids at Fermilab's Lederman Science Center, an educational center that houses resources for K-12 teachers and hosts science activities for students. Photo: Cindy Arnold

Pi poles are part of a new exhibit for kids at Fermilab’s Lederman Science Center, an educational center that houses resources for K-12 teachers and hosts science activities for students. Photo: Cindy Arnold

If you want to get children interested in the fundamentals of science, there’s nothing like letting them experience the phenomena first-hand. If you can make it fun at the same time, you have a formula for success.

That’s the thinking behind Fermilab’s in-progress outdoor physics exhibits, located near the Lederman Science Center. The Lederman Science Center is an educational center that houses science resources for K-12 teachers and hosts science activities for students. The Fermilab Education Office has just unveiled the latest exhibits, which allow kids to learn about basic principles of physics while playing in the sunshine.

The two new exhibits, called Wave Like a Particle and Swing Like Neutrinos, are combined into one newly built structure consisting of two poles shaped like the Greek letter Pi. Kids can make waves of various sizes by moving the rope that stretches between the two poles, thereby learning about wave propagation, one of the primary concepts of particle physics.

Children can also use the Swing Like Neutrinos portion of the exhibit – a pair of pendulums hanging from one of the Pi-shaped poles – to learn about coupled oscillations, a basic physics principle.

“Kids learn in different ways,” said Spencer Pasero of Fermilab’s Education Office. “The idea of the outdoor exhibits is to instill a love of learning into kids who respond to hands-on, fun activities.”

The Wave Like a Particle and Swing Like Neutrinos exhibits were built with funds through Fermilab Friends for Science Education, an Illinois not-for-profit organization supporting the Fermilab Education Office. Contributions were received from an anonymous donor and a grant from the Community Foundation of the Fox River Valley.

The new exhibits join the Run Like a Proton accelerator path, which opened in May 2013. Using this feature, kids can mimic protons and antiprotons as they race along Fermilab’s accelerator chain.

“We hope this series of exhibits will activate kids’ imaginations and that they immerse themselves in the physics we’ve been doing at Fermilab for decades,” Pasero said.

Fermilab is located 35 miles outside Chicago, Illnois. The Lederman Science Center is open to the public Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Community Foundation of the Fox River Valley is a non-profit philanthropic organization based in Aurora, Illinois that administers individual charitable funds from which grants and scholarships are distributed to benefit the citizens of the Greater Aurora Area, the TriCities and Kendall County Illinois. For more information, please see www.communityfoundationfrv.org.

Fermilab is America’s national laboratory for particle physics research. A U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science laboratory, Fermilab is located near Chicago, Illinois, and operated under contract by the Fermi Research Alliance, LLC. Visit Fermilab’s website at www.fnal.gov and follow us on Twitter at @FermilabToday.

The DOE Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

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This article appeared in symmetry on June 4, 2014.

Data collected at the long-running MINOS experiment stacks evidence against the existence of these theoretical particles. Photo: Reidar Hahn

Data collected at the long-running MINOS experiment stacks evidence against the existence of these theoretical particles. Photo: Reidar Hahn

If you’re searching for something that may not exist, and can pass right through matter if it does, then knowing where to look is essential.

That’s why the search for so-called sterile neutrinos is a process of elimination. Experiments like Fermilab’s MiniBooNE and the Liquid Scintillator Neutrino Detector (LSND) at Los Alamos National Laboratory have published results consistent with the existence of these theoretical particles. But a new result from the long-running MINOS experiment announced this week severely limits the area in which they could be found and casts more doubt on whether they exist at all.

Scientists have observed three types or “flavors” of neutrinos—muon, electron and tau neutrinos—through their interactions with matter. If there are other types, as some scientists have theorized, they do not interact with matter, and the search for them has become one of the hottest and most contentious topics in neutrino physics. MINOS, located at Fermilab with a far detector in northern Minnesota, has been studying neutrinos since 2005, with an eye toward collecting data on neutrino oscillation over long distances.

MINOS uses a beam of muon neutrinos generated at Fermilab. As that beam travels 500 miles through the earth to Minnesota, those muon neutrinos can change into other flavors.

MINOS looks at two types of neutrino interactions: neutral current and charged current. Since MINOS can see the neutral current interactions of all three known flavors of neutrino, scientists can tell if fewer of those interactions occur than they should, which would be evidence that the muon neutrinos have changed into a particle that does not interact. In addition, through charged current interactions, MINOS looks specifically at muon neutrino disappearance, which allows for a much more precise measurement of neutrino energies, according to João Coelho of Tufts University.

“Disappearance with an energy profile not described by the standard three-neutrino model would be evidence for the existence of an additional sterile neutrino,” Coelho says.

The new MINOS result, announced today at the Neutrino 2014 conference in Boston, excludes a large and previously unexplored region for sterile neutrinos. To directly compare the new results with previous results from LSND and MiniBooNE, MINOS combined its data with previous measurements of electron antineutrinos from the Bugey nuclear reactor in France. The combined result, says Justin Evans of the University of Manchester, “provides a strong constraint on the existence of sterile neutrinos.”

“The case for sterile neutrinos is still not closed,” Evans says, “but there is now a lot less space left for them to hide.”

Andre Salles

The vertical axis shows the possible mass regions for the sterile neutrinos. The horizontal axis shows how likely it is that a muon neutrino will turn into a sterile neutrino as it travels. The new MINOS result excludes everything to the right of the black line. The colored areas show limits by previous experiments. Image courtesy of MINOS collaboration

The vertical axis shows the possible mass regions for the sterile neutrinos. The horizontal axis shows how likely it is that a muon neutrino will turn into a sterile neutrino as it travels. The new MINOS result excludes everything to the right of the black line. The colored areas show limits by previous experiments.
Image courtesy of MINOS collaboration

This graph shows the combined MINOS/Bugey result (the red line) in comparison with the results from LSND and MiniBooNE (the green areas). The vertical axis shows the possible mass regions for sterile neutrinos. The new MINOS/Bugey result excludes everything to the right of the red line. Image courtesy of MINOS collaboration

This graph shows the combined MINOS/Bugey result (the red line) in comparison with the results from LSND and MiniBooNE (the green areas). The vertical axis shows the possible mass regions for sterile neutrinos. The new MINOS/Bugey result excludes everything to the right of the red line.
Image courtesy of MINOS collaboration

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Dan Yocum, left, formerly of Fermilab, shakes hands with Google's Brian Fitzpatrick in front of a quadrupole magnet at its new home in Google's Chicago offices. Photo: Troy Dawson

Dan Yocum, left, formerly of Fermilab, shakes hands with Google’s Brian Fitzpatrick in front of a quadrupole magnet’s new home in Google’s Chicago offices. Photo: Troy Dawson

Fermilab does a good job of recycling — from the ubiquitous blue trash cans to electromagnets to — in my case — employees. I myself left Fermilab in 1999 only to recycle back to the Experimental Astrophysics Group in 2000 to work on the Sloan Digital Sky Survey before leaving again in 2012.

When news of the Tevatron’s decommissioning reached Brian Fitzpatrick, head of software engineering in the Chicago offices of Google, he sent
me a short email lamenting the Tevatron closure. He included a request for a souvenir to display in Google’s Chicago offices. Brian and I met when he came to Fermilab to give a computing seminar talk on MapReduce and BigTable several years ago. We have remained in touch ever since, so I gladly accepted the challenge.

My next stop was the office of Accelerator Division head Roger Dixon. We discussed the possibility of acquiring something from the Tevatron for Google and conferred briefly with scientist Todd Johnson. We settled on a quadrupole steering magnet.

But getting a magnet out of the Tevatron was out of the question since the magnet would be slightly radioactive. As a rule, Fermilab’s safety section and the Department of Energy never let even slightly activated material leave the site to be recycled. But hope was not lost, and Roger suggested I speak with Dave Harding, then deputy head of the Technical Division, to see if there were any spare magnets in storage. Off I went to find Dave.

Dave determined that there were indeed several magnets that were clean and in storage because they had been determined to be flawed during post-manufacture testing. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. I had hit pay dirt!

Roger had also warned that I would have to walk through a labyrinth of people in the Directorate, Business Services, Environmental Health and Safety and DOE before the magnet could be released. Over several months I proceeded to meet and speak with many folks. I list them here so they know how much I appreciate them: Gerald Annala, Dave Augustine, Jose Cardona, Debra Cobb, Shannon Fugman, Jack Kelly, Scott McCormick, Dean Still and John Zweibohmer.

After many emails of clarification, justification and negotiation, everything was signed off and the plan was approved.

Success! Or so I thought. I was already starting to feel a bit like Odysseus trying to get home after the Trojan War when I spoke with Jack Kelly in the Property Department: We had one more bit of stormy water to navigate. Luckily, Jack was an able guide, shepherding the paperwork and the magnet through not one but three online auctions for the DOE labs, the universities and, finally, eBay. He put the big shiny blue “Buy it Now” button on the final eBay page, where Google’s Brian Fitzpatrick clicked and paid $150 for a piece of Tevatron history. How did they come up with the price? That figure was based on the magnet’s estimated scrap metal value. But instead of being turned into scrap, it now proudly resides in Google’s Chicago offices.

On September 28, 2012, after 349 days of navigating a quagmire of paperwork, we had recycled a Tevatron quadrupole magnet and found a new home for it.

The magnet is the centerpiece amongst a myriad of historical scientific and computing items at the Google office. There’s even an Sloan Digital Sky Survey spectroscopic plug plate to keep it company.

Former Fermilab employee Paul Rossman, who works at Google, says, “It’s nice to pass an awesome piece of technology like the quadrupole magnet on the way to my desk. It’s almost like I got to take a little something with me from Fermilab.” Nice, indeed.

I’d like to express my sincerest appreciation to all the people named in this article. You are some of the best of Fermilab. Thank you.

Dan Yocum

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This article appeared in symmetry on May 1, 2014.

Scientists stay inspired in their sometimes tedious task of inspecting photographs taken in the Dark Energy Survey’s ambitious cataloging of one-eighth of the sky. Image courtesy of Dark Energy Survey

Scientists stay inspired in their sometimes tedious task of inspecting photographs taken in the Dark Energy Survey’s ambitious cataloging of one-eighth of the sky. Image courtesy of Dark Energy Survey

Physicists working on the Dark Energy Survey can expect to pull many an all-nighter. The international collaboration of more than 120 scientists aims to take about 100,000 photographs peering deep into the night sky. Scientists must personally review many of these photos to make sure the experiment is working well, and they’ve come up with ways to stay motivated while doing so.

DES scientists collected almost 14,000 photographs from August 2013 to February 2014, in the first of five seasons they plan to operate their sophisticated Dark Energy Camera. Even for those of us who aren’t trying to take the most detailed survey of the universe, it might not come as a surprise that complications can occur during operation. For example, the telescope may not always sync up with the natural movement of the night sky, and passing airplanes can create trails in the images. Software bugs can also cause issues.

Two of the DES researchers, Erin Sheldon of Brookhaven National Laboratory and Peter Melchior of The Ohio State University, created the DES Exposure Checker, an online gallery of images from the telescope. Team members use the photo repository as a way to spot imperfections and other issues with the images so they can fix problems as quickly as possible.

“These problems are easier for an actual person to see rather than some automated program,” Sheldon says. “And then we can create an inventory to help diagnose troubles that may occur with future images.”

When reviewing photos, DES scientists flag the ones that show symptoms of different problems, such as long streaks from satellites; unwanted reflections, called ghosts; or marks left by cosmic rays. But the process can get overwhelming with thousands of photos to look over. So the DES researchers decided to add a positive classification to the mix—an “Awesome!” category. When someone sees an incredible photo, they can mark it as such in the database.

Sheldon points out one of his favorite images, one that captured a passing comet. “It was just so serendipitous. We couldn’t find that if we pointed the telescope in the same place at any other time,” he says.

Steve Kent, Fermilab scientist and head of the experimental astrophysics group, says one of his favorite images from the survey shows a dying star. In the color photo, a bright blue oxygen haze surrounds the hot remnant of what was formerly a giant red star.

A second way to encourage team members classifying images is the leader board posted on the DES Exposure Checker website, honoring individuals who have categorized the most photos. Researchers compete to see their names at the top.

But more than friendly competition drives the DES team to categorize images. They’re also seeking answers to questions about the past and future of our universe such as: Has the density of dark energy changed over time? Why is the expansion of the universe speeding up?

“For me, it’s a mystery,” Sheldon says. “I have this question, and I have to find out the answer.”

Amanda Solliday

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This article appeared in Fermilab Today on April 23, 2014.

This spring's first bison baby was born on April 20. Photo: Reidar Hahn

This spring’s first bison baby was born on April 20. Photo: Reidar Hahn

Spring has finally arrived, and with it, the newest addition to the Fermilab community.

On Sunday, April 20, Fermilab welcomed the first new calf of the year to its herd of American bison, commonly known as buffalo. At least a dozen more calves are expected this spring.

View more photos of the new calf.

Everybody, especially families with small children, is welcome to come to the pasture where the young buffalo run around under the watchful eyes of “mom and dad bison.”

Visitors can enter the Fermilab site through the Pine Street entrance in Batavia or the Batavia Road entrance in Warrenville. Admission is free, but you will need a valid photo ID to enter the site. Summer hours are from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week.

To learn more about Fermilab’s bison, please visit our website on the bison herd.

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Massive thoughts

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

This article appeared in symmetry on April 24, 2014.

The Higgs boson and the neutrino fascinate the general public and particle physicists alike. Why is that?

The Higgs boson and the neutrino fascinate the general public and particle physicists alike. Why is that?

If there are two particles that everyone has read about in the news lately, it’s the Higgs boson and the neutrino. Why do we continue to be fascinated by these two particles?

As just about everyone now knows, the Higgs boson is integrally connected to the field that gives particles their mass. But the excitement of this discovery isn’t over; now we need to figure out how this actually works and whether it explains everything about how particles get their mass. With time, this knowledge is likely to affect daily life.

One way it could possibly bridge the gap between fundamental research and the commercial market, I believe, is in batteries. The ultimate battery in nature is mass. The expression E=mc2 is a statement of that fact. During the early moments of the universe, all particles were massless and traveling at the speed of light. Once the Higgs mechanism turned on, particles suddenly began interacting with the field and, in this process, converted their energy into what we now refer to as mass. In a recent address to the Canadian Nuclear Society, I suggested that if engineers of the future could learn how to manipulate the Higgs field (to “turn it on and off”), then we would have developed the ultimate energy source and the best battery nature has created. This idea definitely belongs in the science-fiction category, but remember that progress in science is driven by thinking “outside the box!”

This sort of thinking comes from looking at the Higgs from another angle. According to the Standard Model, many particles come in left-handed and right-handed versions (in the former, the particle’s direction of spin matches its direction of motion, while in the latter, they are opposite).

Keeping this fact in mind, let’s look at the mass of the familiar electron as an example. When we say that the mass of the electron is created by interactions with the Higgs field, we can think of this as the Higgs field rapidly changing a left-handed electron into a right-handed electron, and vice versa. This switching back and forth is energy and, through E=mc2, energy is mass. A heavier particle like the top quark would experience this flipping at a much higher frequency than a lighter particle like the electron. As we learn more about how this process works, I encourage physicists to also seek applications of that knowledge.

And what about neutrinos? Do they get their mass from the Higgs field or in a completely different way? Once thought to be massless, neutrinos are now known to have a tiny mass. If the Higgs mechanism is responsible for that mass, there must exist both a left-handed and a right-handed neutrino. A good number of physicists think that both are out there, but we do not yet know. That knowledge may help us understand why the neutrino mass is tiny, as well as why there is more matter than antimatter in the universe—one of the most important questions facing our field of particle physics.

But since the neutrino is a neutral particle, the story gets more interesting. It may instead be possible that there is another type of mass. Referred to as a Majorana mass, it is not a mass described by the flipping of left- and right-handed neutrinos back and forth, but it is “intrinsic,” not derived from any kind of “motional energy.” I expect that the efforts by our field of particle physics, in the collective sense, will pursue the questions associated with both the Higgs boson and the neutrino with enthusiasm, and that the results will lead to advancements we can’t even imagine today.

Nigel Lockyer, Fermilab director

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