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Zoe Louise Matthews | ASY-EOS | UK

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Strong couplings: Tales from Brazil

Zoe is back! And I have many a tale to tell. I’ve been away for a while. As the most important time for the Large Hadron Collider approaches, I have been in Brazil for a few weeks. Of course, it wasn’t a holiday, but two fantastic opportunities to learn from theorists and experimentalists from all over the world, and tell them about the work my colleagues and I have been doing.

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As well as preparing for this, before leaving I had the pleasure of showing some staff and students from my friends’ school, Calthorpe Park, around CERN for the day. They flew in and back the same day, so we made the most of every second. After a quick lunch in the cafeteria, where they asked some PhD students about the LHC, physics, and help with their homework, they wandered around the microcosm and learned alot about particle physics. Wandering through the historical bubble chambers, one student said it made them think of NASA and space-exploring pods. Then, after a brief introduction to CERN, they had a tour of ATLAS (limited due to everything closing up ready for beam unfortunately!) followed by LINAC-2 and LIER. This was brilliant! As a CERN-based particle physics geek, I knew what to expect from the LINAC but this was the first time I had actually seen where everything started – from a tiny bottle of H2. As if the day wasn’t crammed full enough, luckily some of my colleagues managed to get hold of a cloud chamber too, and held a demonstration for them. It was a great day, and everyone was exhausted at the end but I think they learned alot and enjoyed it. I hope to visit the school some time soon – there is really nothing more fun than working through a problem with a group, leading them towards understanding…and school kids have the best questions. The ones that adults don’t ask because they feel silly. The real elephant-in-the-room stumpers 🙂

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After that it was a quick sleep before getting a 10 hour flight to another continent! The adventure started in Rio de Janeiro, where the Workshop for Diffractive Physics at the LHC was held. Experimentalists from ATLAS, CMS and ALICE updated on the preparations for LHC p-p collisions later this year, a speaker from RHIC discussed diffractive analysis results, and theoreticians went through some of the fascinating physics we may be sensitive to by looking at diffraction, including Higgs production from gluons, and even the interesting idea of gluons having dynamical mass. The highlight for me was Uri Maor, who detailed the basics of theory for the PhD students and experimentalists who needed it. I have seen many talks and lectures on the topic over the past year but I found this very useful – with very complex ideas you get a better, firmer grasp on them the more frequently you familiarise yourself, and the more different angles you look at them from.

The meeting was all about communication – strengthening links between CERN and Brazil, between different universities within Brazil, and between theoreticians and experimentalists. Even the LHC experimentalists found out things about each other’s work that they didn’t know 😉 The result is that many of us, otherwise seperated by various other forces, have had our connection strengthened. As one of the organisers phrased it, “[We hope to establish] strong couplings between groups”. We are, after all, working towards the same goal, and collaborating helps us improve. A friend of mine made a comment that reminded me of the phenomenon of the dynamical mass of hadrons: “Physicists on their own only achieve so much, but when they work together they go further…big collaborations like CERN are more than just the sum of their members.” It’s a cheesy connection, but it’s true. Without interacting with each other so much we could never progress like we do.

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Physics found stereotypically scrawled onto tissue paper at the Diffractive Workshop buffet - not fake!

I’ll leave you with a few photos from Rio. Next week: Part two of my adventure, the Strangeness in Quark Matter conference!

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Monkeys in the nature reserve at the foot of the Sugar Loaf

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Stunning view from the top of the Sugar Loaf

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Uri Maor and Rainer Schicker found responsible for the mysterious napkin-physics - possibly staged 😉

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