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David Schmitz | Fermilab | USA

View Blog | Read Bio

Greetings from Fermilab

Hi everyone, and welcome to my new blog on Quantum Diaries!  As with many things, getting started feels like the hardest part as there are so many things to write about and one is never sure where to begin.

It seems blogs are everywhere these days. Google has a search tab dedicated to finding blogs and will uncover one on just about any subject you can imagine.  I personally read several blogs maintained by close friends who are off on an adventure of some sort in the world.   This is my first venture into the world of blogging as author.

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The assembled MINERvA prototype detector on the surface at Fermilab. The hanging paddles act as a "trigger" signaling when invisible cosmic rays are passing trough the detector.

My goal is to share about my experiences as a neutrino physicist working at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, IL. The main content will, therefore, be about current research efforts in high energy particle physics – what are some of the open questions and what experiments are being done to search for answers?  Hopefully it will give the Reader a sense of what it is like to do this type of research.  I’m sure there will be posts along the way that don’t really touch on physics as well since, like anyone, I have a variety of interests beyond my work.

It’s actually a very exciting time for the experiment which I am currently working on, called MINERvA (as in the Roman goddess).  MINERvA is a new experiment at the lab designed to study how neutrinos interact with other matter better than any experiment to come before.  Since I started last summer, the detector has gone from a lot of parts and a good plan to something that can actually see fundamental particles completely invisible to our eyes.   The past few months have involved much hard work by many people on what we call “commissioning” the new detector – essentially doing very detailed studies of its performance to be sure it is working like we expected.

A cosmic ray muon passing through the MINERvA detector as seen in the reconstructed data from our electronics.

A cosmic ray muon passing through the MINERvA detector as seen in the reconstructed data from our electronics.

We do this by taking advantage of something nature provides us for free – cosmic rays. Particles from outer space interacting in the amosphere produce energetic charged particles which are bombarding the surface constantly, including our detector – how convienent!  One type of cosmic ray is the muon (the big sister of the electron) and they look very distinctive in our detector.  The center part of the detector shown in the picture above has regions made of a plastic where light is produced when a charged muon passes through.  The electronic instruments on the top of the detector can “see” this light and read it out very quickly.  When we assemble (very carefully!) the signals from all of the electronics channels (there are 64 on each circuit board you can see, so 6784 all together) we can see very clearly the “invisible” muon passing through, as in the event display on the left.  We recorded many thousands of muon events like this over several weeks to test our new detector.

Satisfied with this testing, we are now disassembling the entire thing (after all that hard work?) to move it into the path of the extremely intense neutrino beam created here at Fermilab, called NuMI.  The trick is that the beam path is in a large cavern 300 ft underground, so it must be moved in pieces so it can be carefully lowered down a long shaft and reassembled underground.  I will be working long shifts underground on Monday and Tuesday of next week operating the computers and electronics of the detector and basically commissioning it all over again.  I’ll be sure to post new pictures next week.  And with any luck, by the middle of the week we will see the first evidence of a neutrino interacting within our detector!!  Hmmmm, maybe after the weekend I’ll even explain why in the world someone would want to this 🙂  But for now I have to get going because, if you read my bio, then you know that my defending national champion alma mater is playing in the NCAA sweet sixteen in an hour and a half – Go ‘Hawks!

The underground cavern at Fermilab looking back in the direction of the neutrino source.

The underground cavern at Fermilab looking back in the direction of the neutrino source.

The heavy steel frame patiently waiting the hanging of the MINERvA detector very soon!

The heavy steel frame patiently waiting the hanging of the MINERvA detector very soon!

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