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Nicole Ackerman | SLAC | USA

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Spring Changes

Welcome! Spring has brought with it numerous changes, including this blog. I hope to share the interesting aspects of my life over the next few weeks, though I am somewhat unsure what they will be. That is what makes them interesting, right?

The first change is that I’m not currently in New Mexico at my experiment. I was excited for my first trip to the salt mine since last October, but experimental delays have thwarted me (again). I hope to post soon about the salt mine – including pixelated cell phone pictures – but there won’t be any “live from 2000 ft underground” posts anytime soon! I was supposed to go and take two back-to-back shifts, each lasting 9 days. During a shift I’d spent about 8 hours underground getting different systems of our experiment running and doing tests. This was supposed to be “commissioning”, where we set up a schedule ahead of time and get everything running. Normally people are working on it, but doing smaller tasks and not highly coordinated full system tests. Well, we found some early obstacles and stopped early – which can always be expected. I likely won’t be traveling there for some time since I’m not one of the experts on any of the systems that have been installed and I’m involved in numerous California based aspects of the experiment.

Both Halves of the EXO-200 TPC

Both Halves of the EXO-200 TPC


I’m in the middle of an interesting change regarding the status of the EXO detector. I’ve been involved in the final assembly (occurring in a clean room at Stanford University) for the past few weeks, but we’re (basically) done!  The next step is doing as much testing as possible while the detector is here, before we ship it to WIPP.  We’ll connect the detector to the electronics set-up and do noise studies and try to debug any problems.  We will be welding the vessel closed that contains the detector before we ship to WIPP, so we will only be able to use external measurements to make sure it arrived ok. I’m back up at SLAC more, now that the majority of the assembly is done, but I’ll be back on campus to help with setting up the electronics and some of the testing. It is hard to get back into the habit of coming up and working at SLAC when it feels like I’ve been gone for months.
The Vessel the detector goes in, attached to cryostat door

The Vessel the detector goes in, attached to cryostat door



The biggest change has yet to come: teaching. The Stanford Physics program has a teaching requirement (3 quarters) for the PhD. This is the only requirement I am behind on at all. Up to this point I haven’t been able to teach either because of anticipated travel or because I had funding and there were too many people who needed to teach as a source of funding. This quarter I will be a lab TA for Physics 67, which is an introduction to lab techniques and data analysis for physics majors. The majority of TA’s end up leading lab or discussion sections for the physics classes for pre-med students, so my assignment is exciting. I’ll get to interact with physics undergraduates, which I’m really looking forward to. I’m excited about the course content; it’s the closest class at Stanford to my favorite physics class at MIT. Working with lab equipment and data analysis tools is certainly easier for me than remember E&M or Quantum equations, so this class is more my strength than many others. I’ll likely still have a lot to learn, but it will do me a lot of good to get better at statistics and learn more analysis techniques. I’m sure I’ll be blogging about teaching a lot – hopefully not about how bad I am at it!

Of course, spring also brings beautiful weather with it. I’m getting out and biking more, which feels great. On days when I am at SLAC it is fairly easy to spend lunch biking the Portola Loop or down Cañada Rd. The only downside I can think of is that as it gets hotter, it is far less pleasant to crank up the oven for a batch of cookies or have a pot of Indian food cooking for hours. It usually doesn’t get too hot here, so I likely have another month or two of quality cookie making.

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