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Zachary Marshall | USLHC | USA

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Late Edition

Hi there blog enthusiasts!

I thought it would be appropriate to write my first post sitting here in the ATLAS control room. I’m manning the very same desk that Seth blogged about over a year ago as we prep ATLAS for the restart of the LHC in the next week or so. It’s late Saturday night (Sunday morning? Which one is it at 4am?), and so it seems like a good time for an existential crisis.

How did I get here?

I was always a math and science kid. One of my friends read The Physics of Star Trek in 6th or 7th grade, explained it to me, and eventually loaned me his copy. That was enough for me. I was ready to find E.T. My parents are both English professors, and they had no idea where they went wrong. My Mom was a product of New Math, and my Dad gave up on physics as soon as electricity and magnetism came around (“Field Lines???”).

I had two great physics teachers in High School (for the real physics nerds: I went to the same High School as Michael Peskin and Jack Steinberger). Those two convinced me that physics was as interesting as I hoped and that it was something I could actually do for a living. One bit of advice that I took to heart: “Take math until you really don’t understand it any more. Then stop.”

At the end of High School, I decided to go to Berkeley (Go Bears!!) and major in math and physics. My first physics professor was a young Russian, one of the smartest and hardest working guys I’ve ever met. I spent the rest of college working for him on an experiment at SLAC. I had a great time in the physics department there, and settled on the idea of graduate school around my Sophomore year. The only questions were where, and doing what.

Until my Junior year, I thought I might be a theorist (much like Flip). Then two things happened in one year: I stopped understanding math, and I took a full-year lab course that was some of the most fun I’d had at Cal. The course was repeating famous physics experiments: working on a C02 laser, measuring Rutherford Scattering, measuring the flux of cosmic rays, making Joshephson junctions… I loved every minute of it. And there were a lot of minutes to love!

So I tried to see what the experimental physicists I respected most were doing. Many of them were heading towards the LHC (I also thought about IceCube, but the thought of spending a few winters at the south pole was hard to stomach). I applied to graduate school knowing I wanted to work on the LHC, and even knowing which professors I wanted to work for. Physics professors pick their projects, so heading to Caltech was the last major decision I’ve made on my own. Since then, I’ve worked on the ATLAS simulation software (full details to come) and pixel detector, and I’m heading back into the world of “jets” (like these, but using the calorimeter).

And now, here I am in the control room on a Saturday night. It does make one wonder. Either I really love what I’m doing, or I have made some horrible choices along the way. But since these shifts are all volunteer work, the choice is obvious, right?!?

Even though none of the green lights have turned red yet, I’ll stop here for the time being. More about science, and less about me, soon!

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