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Anadi Canepa | TRIUMF | Canada

View Blog | Read Bio

“Vague but exciting”

The WWW turns 20! and CERN celebrates its birthday inviting the father of the web, Tim Berners-Lee. In several occasions during the event, Berners-Lee and the CERN Director General had the opportunity to point out the role of CERN in the birth and success of the web. Their words well summarize what CERN, likewise TRIUMF or Fermilab, really is: a pool of highly motivated people coming together to push forward the understanding of Nature. And not only. As a matter of fact in the late ’90, CERN was already the largest and most geographically distributed scientific community. But it is not only the size and the diversity which leads to great advancements in the field. What drives us, as particle physicists, is a culture of sharing knowledge, “open-ness”. Thousands of people are actively contributing just to build
one of the experiments around the ring (be it ATLAS or CMS; the ALICE and LHCb are slightly smaller collaborations). Building an experiment is a whole experience by itself. We start from designing and testing the detectors. Each component will have to operate in extreme experimental conditions (high radiation for instance), and to provide excellent performance (fast response, good accuracy. etc). After the “R&D” phase is completed and the production starts, groups of experts sit at the same table
to design the test procedure of the hardware: most of our subdetectors won’t be accessible once assembled in the cavern and sophisticated and exhaustive tests need to guarantee a long term reliability of the hardware. Similar is the procedure for the electronics reading the data coming out of the detector. This is the beginning of the chain! The data will be transferred and analyzed; a complicated forest of databases are put in place to store the information about run conditions, calibration, alignment.
Data understanding has to be carried out online (“live”) to provide immediate feed back, detailed study might take years. Finally the tools are ready, our enormous amount of data is distributed world wide using the “grid” and the search will start. The creativity of the whole collaboration spurs from a free interaction among its members. The management holding the community together for the accomplishment of goals, does not have a top-down structure. It is rather formed by colleagues with scientific skills and a strong capability of building consensus, as voted (directly or indirectly) by the collaboration. This makes the world of particle physics free from any influence, but the strive for scientific achievements. The laboratory becomes an optimal place for a spark, for a brilliant idea to be born and spread. Of course the world would be different, if for instance, any loyalty had been enforced on the web. Similarly, after an extremely rigorous scrutiny, all our scientific results are published and represent the common foundation for the next step in research. While the world is going through the so called “Globalization 3.0” (you can read the “World is flat” by T.L. Zimmermann, a debatable but interesting view), the British Library (and the New York Times for that matters) is undertaking a collecting and archiving project to preserve information stored solely in short term web sites, to prevent a “black hole for future historians and writers”!

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Geography of ATLAS, one of the experiments at the LHC

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