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Regina Caputo | USLHC | USA

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The things I learned in Kindergarten

I’m sure that many of you are aware that the LHC has several thousand people working on it and on all the experiments associated with it. When I tell my friends and family that I work on ATLAS, I’ve often been asked how do I work in a group of 2500 physicists? It’s not quite as straightforward as we just take a long time during roll call. So thought it would be worth mentioning it in this blog.

It all stems from the things you learned in kindergarten. I’ll start with the basics. Of course everyone on ATLAS doesn’t work with every other person. It’s comprised of several different detector components and areas of interest, each of which have their own working group. For example I work on the Liquid Argon (LAr) Calorimeter, so I’m a part of that detector group. I also work on physics associated with electrons and photons, so I’m in the e/gamma group. (photons are represented by the Greek letter gamma). There are groups for each part of the detector, each area of physics, for all the triggers, and for all the computing. A person is usually in a couple of these groups and often times the topics for discussion overlap. Although most of the time these groups work on topics independently, they’re all working toward the same goal, so it’s important to be able to work together. Which is the first lesson you learn in kindergarten. I was talking about this with my roommate and fellow blogger, Stephanie, who skipped kindergarten (off to learn more important things than sharing ;)). Now I don’t know how many of my colleagues skipped this important first step in academia, but I recently gave a presentation on behalf of one of the groups I work for, and I thought I’d share the experience.

In my years in graduate school, I’ve found that physicists are procrastinators. (Which was maybe the 2nd thing you learned in kindergarten… don’t procrastinate, or maybe don’t eat paste was 2nd… then 3rd was don’t procrastinate). I can’t pretend to be blameless, the deadline always seems a little farther away than it actually is. Needless to say this presentation was no different. About a week before, we started seriously talking about what we wanted to present (things like which data plots we wanted to show, how we wanted to show them, etc..). Which seemed like a reasonable amount of time in advance. There was enough material to present to make 2 presentations, so a fellow student and I were assigned to the tasks. So I diligently started working on my part thinking I have about 5 days to complete it. The first wrench in the process was when the other student wasn’t going to be able to present. So I’d have to combine both into one big talk. (Neither of which had been written, as of then).

I had been sent approximately 100 Power point slides to use in my 45 min talk. (This was a compilation of all the work that we’ve done over the course of 5 months or so… which may lead us into the 4th thing you learn in kindergarten: figuring out what is important stuff to know, and what isn’t.  Example: the names of all 5 members of New Kids on the Block – important, your address and phone number – maybe not). I frantically sifted through the pages and pages of information trying to figure out what was most important as well as recreate the results that had been presented in our smaller group meeting a few days before.

Three days and one very stressful weekend later, brings us to the day of the presentation. Of course the results didn’t match up quite right (something we’re still trying to figure out), the errors on our numbers were big and finally right before the meeting started we decided to call the results preliminary and continue the work past the presentation.

At the end of the day, the everything went well, the analysis we are working on is complicated and there are a lot of subtle details that we didn’t realize were as important as they were. (lesson number 5: the world is complicated :)).  At the end of the day, we needed everyone’s contribution to even get as far as we did, and that’s why working together is so important for a 2500 person experiment. Does it always work like a Swiss made clock? Maybe not, but after the presentation I did remember the last thing I learned in kindergarten: the importance of an afternoon nap.

On a different and much more sad note. During all the stress of preparing the talk, I learned that one of my favorite childhood entertainers had passed away. Even in France, MTV was doing a video tribute (which was the first time in a while I had seen music videos on MTV). I wanted to share this really touching link: MJ commercial

Until next time.

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