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Seth Zenz | Imperial College London | UK

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Take the Helm, Mr. Chekov

Seth on Pixel Data Aquisition shiftAuthor’s note: This entry is mostly for my mother. If it happens to amuse anyone else, this is purely by coincidence. Also, there is no need to leave comments informing me that I’m an enormous nerd; I have noticed.

It’s true, life here at CERN is pretty much like Star Trek, or at least it looks that way sometimes. After training last month, and some very hectic shifts earlier this month, I’ve finally had a chance to get a picture of myself at the Pixel Detector operation station in the ATLAS control room. I have lots of screens with technical information in front of me, and the front of the room has a full seven projection screens.

Driving the Pixel Detector is not exactly like driving the USS Enterprise, of course. Where they have a navigator and a helmsman helmsperson, we have a shifter who does Detector Control and one who does Data Acquisition. (I do the latter, although I plan eventually to qualify for both so I can operate the whole thing when everything is very stable.) While they do things like “pivot at warp 2” or “reroute auxilliary power through the main deflector dish to produce a tachyon pulse,” we are more likely to “disable a Read Out Driver to re-enter ATLAS combined running” or “consult the data quality shifter about low statistics in the ID cosmic data stream.” The Pixel Detector has a Shift Leader, who’s sort of like the captain, but they’re only around some of the time if nothing exciting is happening. And of course the Pixel shifters are part of a much larger shift crew, which dwarfs the number of people it apparently takes to operate a starship.

Ok, it’s not that much like Star Trek after all, but — dare I say it? — it’s actually cooler, because it’s real.

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