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Seth Zenz | Imperial College London | UK

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Critical Mass

LBNL Postdoc OfficeIf Monica is right that, within the “city of ATLAS,” your university’s research group is like your family, then I am blessed with a very big family indeed.  With the combined resources of a major research university and a U. S. national lab, the UC Berkeley / Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory ATLAS group is one of the largest on the experiment.  Pictured at right are five of the seven people currently working in one of the three offices we fill at CERN; my office down the hall is smaller but technically has more people, although thankfully not all of them are ever here at the same time.  (If they were, some desks would have three people!) Those three offices, along with a few people scattered around in other locations, form the half of our group that works here in Geneva.  Roughly the same number of people work back in Berkeley, although the relative population varies from week to week as people move back and forth for meetings and detector work.   According to one list I found, we seem to have over fifty people officially working on the experiment in various capacities—engineers, technicians, software experts, and physicists running the gamut from detector specialists to theorists—although I can’t say I know them all.

Just as there are complications to having a large family, there are definite complications to working in such a large group—in particular, coordinating all of our activities, especially between people in Geneva and Berkeley—but on the whole it’s a good thing.  In fact, the size of the ATLAS group was one of the two main reasons I came to Berkeley, and I still tell prospective students the same thing four years later.  Why?  Well, as Monica explained, your group members are the people you go to for help, advice, and to ask stupid questions.  They’re the people you can drop in on rather than making an email appointment, and who will help you if they can even when they’re not an official expert.  There are half a dozen faculty members other than my advisor to talk things over with, when I need a different perspective, a different set of expertise, or just because he’s out of town.  Our postdocs all did succesful work on other partical physics experiments, particularly CDF and D0 at the Tevatron (the LHC’s most direct predecessor) at Fermilab, and they are pretty good at explaining the nitty gritty details of how a real physics analysis goes.  For almost anything I might start to work on, there’s someone who’s already working on something similar, or who has in the past.  And that saves me a lot of time and frustration.

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