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Nicole Ackerman | SLAC | USA

View Blog | Read Bio

A Very Exciting Week

Without a good way to tie three disparate topics together, I will go through the excitement chronologically:

PAST:
SLAC public tours have started up again! On Tuesday the first public tour (in about 2 years) took place. I was not guiding the tour, but tagged along to prepare for future tours. There were about 10 people on the tour, a nice group (in both size and temperament) for the first run. The tour seemed quite successful and we all learned lessons for future tours. I was really impressed by the questions that were asked, and how well the tour guide, Keith Bechtol, was able to answer them. I have a lot of studying to do in order to know the cross section of the electron bunches, the expected radiation doses at a variety of locations around the lab, the use schedule for LCLS, and all of the dates of construction and discoveries! While I anticipate lots of WIPP travel in the next few months, I hope that I can lead a few tours in between trips. I’m certainly happy to see tours running again.

PRESENT:
I’m blogging from an airplane right now– how futuristic is that? My understanding is that those of you in Europe have had wireless (and cell phones?) on planes for a while, but this is the first flight I’ve used wireless on. Right now it is a free trial, and I’m not yet convinced that I’d pay $13 for this for a flight, unless it was a very long flight.

Of course, the reason I’m on the airplane is more exciting: holiday travel! I’m traveling to Ohio to spend almost two weeks with family and I could really use the break. I saw snow last year there, so I’m eager to see if I can actually have a white Christmas this year. Certainly the mountains we are flying over right now are snow covered, but it isn’t quite the same thing.

FUTURE:
The future is always the most exciting, right? Tomorrow (in exactly 25 hours) the new CDMS results will be announced. Thanks to many rumours, there has been some speculation that CDMS may have seen something. Since CDMS is an incredibly sensitive experiment that has a very tiny background, something is actually saying a lot. Their past results have been that they saw zero events. No background events, no signal. So seeing anything would be a change, and it wouldn’t take too many events (like 6) for it to not be consistent with background – ie, EVIDENCE FOR DARK MATTER!

I haven’t been this excited since the MiniBooNE results were announced when I was an undergrad at MIT. That experiment was testing the (unexpected) results of a previous experiment, LSND. If MiniBooNE confirmed the LSND results, it would imply there was something strange in the neutrino sector (like a sterile neutrino). The MiniBooNE results were consistent with the “standard” neutrino model – the audience was palpably disappointed. Of course, the structure of these talks are that the first 45 minutes or so describe the experiment, analysis methods, and possible backgrounds without announcing the actual results. At the end of the talk the “box is opened” and everyone either starts discussing it with their neighbours or runs out of the room to go and write a theory to match the new data. I think those are 45 of the most excruciatingly exciting minutes possible in science.

But since my present status is flying away from SLAC at 582 mph, I won’t be at SLAC for the talk tomorrow given by Prof. Cooley of Southern Methodist University. There are simultaneous announcements occurring at Fermilab and SLAC, both being webcasted. I will be tuning in from three timezones away, hoping for a birthday present of dark matter. I can’t imagine anything I would rather receive for my 25th birthday than a breakthrough in our understanding of the universe.

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