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Paul Jackson | CERN | Switzerland

View Blog | Read Bio

Inspired Direction

I’m on shift again, and my usual streak has hit the ATLAS control room again with a bout of quench protection system problems and dumping of beams the like of which I’m starting to think might not happen when I’m not here. After all, if I’m analyzing data we must be taking it at some point. I should probably bring my rabbit’s foot with me for tomorrows graveyard shift. This brief hiatus from the LHC’s otherwise monumental first data taking run does provide me the opportunity to post though, for the first time in a while (sorry ’bout that!).

So what to say. My title refers to a visitor we had at CERN last week. Persis Drell, the director of SLAC, was at CERN for a couple of days with the purpose of catching up with the SLAC/Stanford group based out here. She tacked the CERN trip onto other official business she had in Europe but it was a very worthwhile couple of days. Persis had a pretty packed agenda planned for her including visits with the ATLAS hierarchy, a long chat with CERN’s own director Rolf Heuer and lunch with some of the ATLAS management. Into this day she also managed to squeeze some time with the staff and students who nominally work for her, but in many cases she may never have met. So, last Friday I found myself in a dusty basement, surrounded by boxes and broken equipment trying to explain the delicate inner workings of the ATLAS pixel detector, accompanied by one of the students in our group. Forgoing the setting up of any look-at-how-clever-we-are presentation we just had a chat and showed Persis around a bit. It was relaxed and informative. She asked questions and showed a genuine interest and it made me think about the last time someone had looked me in the eyes and showed a marked interest in the research I was doing? Dunno. Of course, you get good at these things when you’re high up the food chain. But there is a moment of inspiration in the recognition of your work as something beyond the ordinary.

My pitch was over and I embarked on a relatively successful but not particularly bloggable afternoon of work before our Friday group meeting started. 5pm every Friday, mostly to accommodate our colleagues back in the bay area, is a bad time to have a meeting. Unless, that is, you have wine with the meeting. Labs in the US aren’t allowed alcohol on site. One occasionally gets the impression that CERN may grind to a halt if such a rule were imposed here. We get the uneasy looks from our head as she realizes the wine bottles aren’t just ‘for show’. She politely declines the offer of a plastic cup half filled with cote du rhone (or half emptied of air I suppose) and we go through our presentations and updates in the usual manner.

We had a rather enjoyable work dinner that evening. I’m sometimes skeptical of going out to work related functions, often robbing you of your free time only to force you into conversation with someone who wants to talk solely about what they did at work that week. This was one of the good ones though. Of course there’s the physics talk, but it’s interspersed with all types of topics, anecdotes, even jokes.
It’s great to see all members of a group getting along, regardless of position. The lab director and one of the students in heated argument.

Being geographically separated from the place where you work has it’s pitfalls, mostly from an administration standpoint but also in that it makes you forget the potential support network that exists. Out of sight, out of mind in a sense. But when the boss, the big boss, puts in the time and effort to make you realize that there are people in your corner, it inspires you to do that little bit more in return…..and sometimes a little bit more is all it takes.

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