• John
  • Felde
  • University of Maryland
  • USA

Latest Posts

  • USLHC
  • USLHC
  • USA

  • James
  • Doherty
  • Open University
  • United Kingdom

Latest Posts

  • Andrea
  • Signori
  • Nikhef
  • Netherlands

Latest Posts

  • CERN
  • Geneva
  • Switzerland

Latest Posts

  • Aidan
  • Randle-Conde
  • Université Libre de Bruxelles
  • Belgium

Latest Posts

  • TRIUMF
  • Vancouver, BC
  • Canada

Latest Posts

  • Laura
  • Gladstone
  • MIT
  • USA

Latest Posts

  • Steven
  • Goldfarb
  • University of Michigan

Latest Posts

  • Fermilab
  • Batavia, IL
  • USA

Latest Posts

  • Seth
  • Zenz
  • Imperial College London
  • UK

Latest Posts

  • Nhan
  • Tran
  • Fermilab
  • USA

Latest Posts

  • Alex
  • Millar
  • University of Melbourne
  • Australia

Latest Posts

  • Ken
  • Bloom
  • USLHC
  • USA

Latest Posts

Monica Dunford | USLHC | USA

View Blog | Read Bio

The City of Atlas

I was perusing through our new US LHC website which is really quite nice. And I came across the page introducing Atlas. The question is given ‘What is Atlas?’. The answer is that Atlas is ‘one of two general-purpose experiments’. While there is nothing wrong with this statement, I feel that it doesn’t convey the correct mental image.

In freshmen physics, an “experiment” meant walking into class, seeing some air-track or pendulum set up on all the lab desks and thinking, ‘Awesome! We get to do an experiment today instead of being lulled to sleep with some monotonous lecture.’ Atlas is the exact opposite of this kind of experiment.

There are 1900 physicists working on Atlas. That is a lot. That is roughly the same number of people that lived in my hometown when I was growing up. It is like having 1900 lab partners except the experiment instead of sitting on a table is now the height a six story building.

The clear downside to having 1900 lab partners is that it is a lot of cooks in the kitchen. A lot of cooks with very different backgrounds and ideas about cooking. A lot of cooks who although they are open-minded to new approaches in cooking, still deep down think their approach is superior.

But the upside is in such a large group collaboration, the exchange of ideas is not a luxury but an necessity. The job is too big for one person. If two people disagree on a subject, they must work together to find a middle ground. Forging out alone is not possible. Working in such an environment forces you to constantly re-evaluate your own ideas and consider and incorporate the ideas of your other collaborators. It is never a stagnant environment.

A small city would be a better mental image for Atlas. In order to make the construction and operation of Atlas at all manageable, the experiment has to be organized that way. We have a ‘city council’ composed of men and women chosen for their experience and leadership who guide the general direction of the experiment. A ‘tourism bureau’ which organizes tours and websites about the detector. The “workers” who are the backbone of the experiment, the people who are building the detector with their own sweat. The “engineers” who verify that each sub-system is functioning to spec. And finally the “managers”, people who oversee each sub-system and determine where manpower should be distributed.

This is certainly an oversimplified image of the intricacy of the human interactions involved. But I find it impressive how an experiment so big can be built and its manpower organized at all.

Share