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CERN | Geneva | Switzerland

View Blog | Read Bio

Bye bye beams!

This time, it’s true. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), will stop making collisions for about two years tomorrow, 14 February at 6:00 am, after postponing the date by three days to give the heavy ion community enough data. Shortly after this extension was announced,  dozens of volunteers signed up to staff the experiments and accelerators control rooms.

I was one of them, happy for the opportunity to say goodbye to the ATLAS control room where I have had lots of great moments on shifts. The ambiance is always special: this is where you meet or get to know better many collaborators who normally work outside  CERN, and often, on different continents. Many come to CERN to take their share of the operation load and participate in the data taking.

So here we are, nine people staffing the control room from as many different nationalities plus a few experts on call, coming and going during the one before last shift.

Stephanie Zimmermann, one of the two people in charge of running the detector, confides she would welcome a short break, a few months would be great. But two years will be long. But Anna Sfyrla, one of the trigger experts who has to attend the run meetings six days a week says she won’t miss those meetings and is looking forward to have a breather. Nevertheless, she will miss the fun of the control room.

One other obvious person to ask is Kerstin Lantzsch. Easy to catch her since she practically lives in the control room. She is run coordinator for the pixels, which means she is responsible for the sub-detector placed closest to the beam, the one most likely to be damaged when beams are injected inside the accelerator. She has been coming to the control room every time for the past seven months when the LHC brings fresh beams into collisions, which means a few times a day. No wonder she is looking forward to having a more normal life but nevertheless, she knows she will miss the action.

Similar thoughts for Giovanna Lehman who is one of the experts working on the central data acquisition system. This entails answering all sorts of tough questions at all times of day or night when there is a hiccup in the system that the shifter cannot handle. She looks forward to sleeping more regular hours and getting involved in the many improvements they are planning for this system.

Then some only come occasionally to the control room to take a few shifts. People like two students, Aungshuman Zaman from Stony Brook in New York and Nedaa Asbah from Université de Montréal. They will both have plenty to do. Aungshuman has his work cut out on a detector upgrade and Nedaa will write her masters thesis.

Cyril Bécot, a student at Orsay near Paris will use the time afforded by the long shutdown to complete his PhD thesis. Since he studies Higgs boson decays to two photons, he had to work under great pressure over the last six months given the high profile of the Higgs search. Far from being sad to see the beams go, he looks forward to taking his time to improve his analysis and go more in depth instead of constantly racing against the clock.

Same thing for Anna Lipniacka, a professor at Bergen University in Norway. Sure, she feels a bit sad, but just like Cyril, hopes it will give us time to think a bit more deeply on how to look into the data and develop new analysis techniques.

Mansoora Shamim agrees. She is a post-doc at University of Oregon and admits being moderately sad for the same reasons. She is happy to have more time to work on her analysis, searching for black holes. But she will miss the ambiance of the control room.

And so will I, even if it means more chances for greater discoveries later on. In the meantime, thanks to fresh snow outside, the champagne is cooling off as we plan to toast the LHC at the end of our shift.

Pauline Gagnon

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