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Posts Tagged ‘nuclear physics’

I’m Going to Tell You…

Friday, October 19th, 2012

–by T.I. Meyer, Head of Strategic Planning and Communication

Public science lectures, events, cafés: They are everywhere!  This past weekend, the ATLAS group at TRIUMF went to Science World in downtown Vancouver and gave a science talk about the Higgs, hosted a virtual tour of the ATLAS control room, and answered thousands of questions. Nearly 10,000 people passed through the doors that day.  This past Tuesday night, Perimeter Institute director Neil Turok presented his third CBC Massey lecture, this one in Vancouver at UBC’s Chan Centre.  The sell-out crowd was nearly 1,000 people.  Last night near the waterfront station, TRIUMF science director Reiner Kruecken gave a talk about nuclear astrophysics at the public session of the APS Northwest Sectional meeting.  And on November 1, the director of the NIH Human Genome Research Institute Eric Green will be giving a public talk about genomics and its future influence on clinical practice at GenomeBC.

Why is all of this happening?  Can’t people just get enough of science and technology from YouTube, university classes, and specialized television programs?  Heck, why did *I* go to some of these events?  Is it the same reason I choose to attend certain music concerts or watch a play in person in the theatre?

I thought about this for awhile, and this is what I started to see.

Humans are social creatures.  Maybe I am showing my age, but I still prefer being in a group and learning about something rather than sitting at home in a darkened room and just clicking and scrolling on my computer.  I actually have different brain chemistry when in a group and listening to someone.  At the Massey lecture, there was even something fun about my seatmate whispering questions to me during the talk (for instance, If the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate, does that mean the Solar System is actually getting bigger right now?).  It would have been weird to have Neil Turok come over to my house and record his lecture in my living room with just me as the audience, right?

There’s something curious and fascinating about leading scientists and thinkers in person. I saw the Premier of British Columbia in a coffee shop this morning; she was just getting a cup of coffee like I was, and yet it was still “cool.”  Listening to Neil Turok was special because he peppered his discussion of “What banged (in the Big Bang)?” with personal anecdotes, with humor, and with observations about history.  I can get that same feel when I listen to the broadcasts on CBC Radio of course. I got to hear it “first” and “in the raw.”

There’s something neat about hearing something live, in the moment.  And I got to hear what was happening “right now” rather than waiting for the lecture to be broadcast or waiting for someone to write a Wikipedia article about it.


    What do you think?  Why do people still throng to gather ‘round and listen to and talk about science and particle physics?  What can we do to provide even more of what is needed and wanted?


    Fermilab planning a busy 2012

    Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

    This column by Fermilab Director Pier Oddone first appeared in Fermilab Today Jan. 3 .

    We have a mountain of exciting work coming our way!

    In accelerator operations, we need to give enough neutrinos to MINERvA to complete their low-energy run, enough anti-neutrinos to MiniBooNE to complete their run and enough neutrinos to MINOS to enable their independent neutrino velocity measurement that will follow up on last year’s OPERA results. We need to provide test beams to several technology development projects and overcome setbacks due to an aging infrastructure to deliver beam to the SeaQuest nuclear physics experiment. And we need to do all of this in the first few months of the year before a year-long shutdown starts. During the shutdown, we will modify the accelerator complex for the NOvA era and begin the campaign to double the number of protons from the Booster to deliver simultaneous beams to various experiments.

    In parallel with accelerator modifications, we will push forward on many new experiments. The NOvA detector is in full construction mode, and we face challenges in the very large number of detector elements and large mechanical systems. Any project of this scale requires a huge effort to achieve the full promise of its design. We have the resources in our FY2012 budget to make a lot of progress toward MicroBooNE, Mu2e and LBNE. We will continue to work with DOE to advance Muon g-2. All these experiments are at an important stage in their development and need to be firmly established this year.

    At the Cosmic Frontier, we will commission and start operation of the Dark Energy Survey at the Blanco Telescope in Chile, where the camera has arrived and is being tested. In the dark matter arena we will commission and operate the 60 kg COUPP detector at Canada’s SNOLAB and continue the run of the CDMS 15 kg detector in the Soudan Mine while carrying out R&D on future projects. We continue to have a major role in the operation of the Pierre Auger cosmic-ray observatory. In addition we should complete the first phase of the Fermilab Holometer, which will study the properties of space-time at the Planck scale.

    At the Energy Frontier, we play a major role in the LHC detector operations and analysis. It should be a fabulously exciting year at the LHC as we push on the hints that we already see in the data.

    Beyond construction and operation of facilities we continue our R&D efforts on the superconducting RF technology necessary for Project X and other future accelerators. We will be building the Illinois Accelerator Research Center and moving forward to connect our advanced accelerator program with industry and universities. Our rich program on theory, computation and detector technology will continue to support our laboratory and the particle physics community.

    If we accomplish all that is ahead of us for 2012, it will be a year to remember and celebrate when we hit New Year’s Day 2013!


    Illustration: Fermilab/Diana Canzone

    Two weeks ago, my Aunt and Grand mom (G-Mom) came from New Jersey to visit me at Fermilab.  The first thing they wanted to see was the house in Fermilab Village where my bride-to-be and I would be living for the rest of my graduate career.  G-Mom was impressed: “They hung pictures on the walls for you!”

    Then it got complicated. G-Mom asked me what I do.

    ”I do nuclear physics with the MINERvA, a neutrino interactions experiment.  This detector has an array of nuclear targets that vary in size.  By looking at events that occur in nuclei of different size, we can discover things about those nuclei.” (See notation ** below)

    Her follow-up question was: “How is it you find that interesting?”

    I told her that what we do in nuclear/particle physics is try to solve mysteries and puzzles, and I like doing that.  Being an avid reader of mystery novels and voracious solver of cross-word puzzles, G-Mom was on-board with this reasoning.  So, I tried to explain the mysteries of nuclear physics that MINERvA will investigate in the style of a Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe private detective novel…

    MINERvA, Intra-Nuclear Detective”

    MINERvA was starting to lose her cool.  Of all the detectors in all the world, this proton walked into her’s.

    After 23 hours of interrogating this proton about what he was doing at the time of the boson exchange, he wasn’t revealing sign one  The had detector picked up the proton in the vicinity of the incident.  His usual accomplice, the muon, was seen fleeing north, where he was apprehended by MINOS, the adjacent detector.  Even with the proton refusing to talk, the greenest rookie could spot a muon and a proton in the final state and tell you this was a case of charged-current quasi-elastic neutrino scattering.

    It happens all the time at these energies.  A neutrino with a few GeV of kinetic energy flies deep into some back-alley nucleus and meets up with a neutron.  The deal goes down quickly: a W+ is exchanged; the neutron, fed its fix of charge, is now a proton; the neutrino flies away as a muon, thanked for its troubles with a charge of his own.  This is textbook quasi-elastic scattering.

    But this was not a textbook case.  MINERvA had in her custody not one, but two protons!  Only after she drained the last drop of espresso would MINERvA allow her weary legs to drag her back to the interrogation room.  The questioning was fast and direct.

    A diagram of "textbook" quasi-elastic scattering.

    “Listen Proton, we know you and the muon came out of a carbon nucleus.  Was it quasi-elastic scattering?”

    “Sure, but it wasn’t me.  It was the other proton.”

    “The other proton told us the same thing.  Then what were you doing fleeing the nucleus?”

    “I already told you: I watched the neutrino come in and scatter off a neutron.  Guy turns into a proton and runs right into me!”

    “That’s what they all say.  We think both of you protons were directly involved in the scattering.”

    “Oh, yeah? How are you going to prove it?  You don’t have jurisdiction inside the nucleus!

    The proton was right.  Experiments are not able to see inside the nucleus.  It could not be proven that the protons were involved directly in the neutrino interaction.

    But MINERvA was getting close to connecting the dots enough to figure out what this gang of particles was doing inside the nucleus. They couldn’t hide forever. Soon MINERvA would unravel their pattern and tell all the detectors in the world what was going on.

    MINERvA collaboration. Credit: Fermilab/Reidar Hahn

    ** When an interaction happens inside of a large nucleus, the particles involved in the neutrino interaction (“primary particles”) must travel through a sea of protons and neutrons to get outside the nucleus, where they can be detected.  Primary particles may interact with the other protons and neutrons on their way out.  For example, a primary proton can knock out another proton from the nucleus.  Then the experiment will observe two protons coming out of the nucleus (“final state particles”).  The messiness of primary particles interacting on their way out of the nucleus is called Final State Interactions (FSI).  MINERvA will measure FSI in its wide range of nuclei, thus revealing clues about the mysterious inner-workings of the nucleus.


    — Brian Tice

    Related posts:

    • MINERvA model for building research bridge with Latin American
    • Meet MINERvA: a blend of particle and nuclear physics
    • MINERvA Decathlon
    MINERvA sees its first neutrinos!


    –by Nigel S. Lockyer, Director

    What a treat on Thursday night!  It was raining in Vancouver  (a rare event, I assure you) and I was invited to attend a lecture about Enrico Fermi….by his granddaughter no less. It ended up that Fermi’s wife, Laura, was what I found more interesting. Like most physicists, I already knew a lot about (Dr. E.) Fermi.

    I would guess about 80-90 people attended the inaugural meeting of the Society of Italian Researchers & Professionals in Western Canada. Yes, the Canadian-Italians in western Canada want a science café and tonight was the start. Consider this: roughly 4% of Canadians are of Italian descent, the same fraction as Canadians in the LHC experiment ATLAS. Most Canadian-Italians live in Toronto or Montreal and the rest work at TRIUMF(!). Called ARPICO, the new society promises to be a place to meet, discuss, eat, drink, and learn…hard to argue with the premise.

    Olivia Fermi was invited as a guest of honour and keynote speaker.  She is compiling an interesting history story of her grandparents, two very remarkable people. She talked about stuff we never hear. Enrico would come home covered in graphite from the atomic pile. In those days, there was little sense of the dangers of radioactivity. Enrico died of stomach cancer, perhaps from his overexposure to radiation (although see Argonne’s effort to document how and why the Chicago-Pile 1 Pioneers died). Laura Fermi, Olivia’s grandmother and Enrico’s wife, was to become a successful author and environmental activist—long before too many people cared about the environment, lobbying against the impact of coal and one of the players in the Clean(er) Air Movement in Chicago.  She also helped start an anti-gun lobby. How brave was that back then?

    Olivia Fermi and I chat after her presentation

    I have my own arm’s length connection to Fermi. I had briefly worked with Herb Anderson, Fermi’s post-doctoral fellow, when I was a graduate student. I remember he had lost one lung from berylliosis, a disease that comes from breathing beryllium dust, which he acquired from machining beryllium for the pile. When I worked with him, our experiment was using a beryllium target and so I naturally thought he would be unhappy as he walked in the door and I stood there holding it in my hand like a coffee mug.  But he wasn’t—only the powder is a problem he told me. *whew* I had escaped admonishment from the senior professor…with luck, I could still graduate! Olivia said Herb’s children were her babysitters. I liked that.

    The question period was interesting and Olivia had very thoughtful and sometimes surprising answers. One was, “What is your feeling about Fukishima?” I hadn’t connected Enrico Fermi, the “inventor” of the nuclear power plant, with Fukishima but someone in the audience did. Nuclear anything is touchy with people and tonight was no exception. Her answer was twofold: (1) She felt really bad for the people and their suffering, but (2) She made a practical statement that today we need nuclear power and the challenge is to
    make it safe. Her view was that coal is much worse for the environment than nuclear, yet the world has a magnified fear of nuclear power and people should be more rational.  She’s following in her grandmother’s shoes on this one!  Someone asked if she had tracked down any of the other grandchildren of physicists of that time; the answer was no. Then someone shouted out Facebook.…everyone laughed….the questions were finished.

    On to the food and wine. Nice evening. Grazie.