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Andres Florez | USLHC | USA

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Life as a shifter…..

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

Life as a shifter…..

As part of the contribution with CMS, every University should do a number shifts when the experiment is taking data. For those no familiar with this, you might be wondering, how it is possible that we are taking data if the LHC haven’t started yet? Well, we are being bombarded by millions of cosmic rays every day, and those are the source that we use to understand our detectors and  find problems with the hardware and software. I have being taking some shifts for offline Data Quality Monitoring (DQM) for the tracker system and online shifts for the pixel detector.

For DQM shifts, you should go over the data that have been taken and check some specific plots in order to see the performance and/or errors generated during that particular run. It is cool to go over the different plots and see the efficiency  of each component of the tracker system (silicon strip tracker and the pixel detector).  It is important to see and try to understand the different errors that were generated during the run and report them (if they haven’t been reported before) to the shift leader. The shift leader is the person that usually saves you when you have no idea of what to do. Thanks to all of them!

Pixel online is super nice, but carries a lot more responsibility! Basically, you are baby-sitting a several million dollars detector and believe me, you don’t want to screw things up for not being aware of what you are doing…..During the shift, you should keep track of the temperature, humidity, voltages and currents of the detector (in this case the pixel detector)….Other important issue are the Front End Drivers (FEDs). These are electronic cards used for the detector control and readout. Personally, I believe that the FEDs are one of  the most complicated and important devices in the experiment and if something goes wrong with them, you better pay attention to it!

In general you never know how your shift is going to be. It could be smooth and you almost don’t have to do much during 8 hours, or it could be really busy and stressful, but in the end fun (sometimes). Usually, I get shifts where weird things happen (I think that the detector is a live and it doesn’t like me)…….

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One more challenge…..

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

One more challenge…..

Have you experienced the feeling of being in a group where you feel that everybody knows more than you do about a subject and that the way that people talk just make you wonder, “Oh boy what I am doing here?” I am starting to get involved with physics analysis and that is the way that I’ve been feeling lately. I have put lots of work into trying to expedite my learning process to catch up with my group, but I feel more and more behind every day. It has been good to have a very supportive group, but at the same time I have a taste of frustration in my mouth because I feel that I don’t have enough experience.

I know that life is a constant challenge and that nobody was born knowing everything. I know that things require time, and there is a learning curve. But at the same time, the process is hard, and it even hurts. The good part of all this is that even though that it’s difficult and challenging, I like it! To be a physicist you require dedication, love, perseverance and a genuine passion and fascination for nature. Probably the way that I feel now is the same way that I used to feel during my first couple years of college. Now, if I look back, I can say that I overcame many challenges and learned a lot. A couple days ago, I was looking at an elementary book of quantum mechanics and I thought…man, why was this so difficult to  get back then? I hope that in a couple of years I will say the same about high energy physics analysis! I really hope so…..

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Growing in the middle of adversities!

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

Growing in the middle of adversities!

This week has been specially difficult in different aspects of my life. There are times where everything just breaks down at once, and you wonder whats is going on! After many trials in my life, I learned that my attitude in the middle of difficult circumstances play a fundamental role. There have been times where I behaved like I didn’t care about what was happening to me, that was a big lie because internally I was suffering. Other times I have felt sorry for myself and complained why life is so hard! This attitude is understandable but It didn’t solve anything and in the end, I added my depression and self compassion to my problems, and believe me it didn’t help! Latterly, I have being trying to  assume a different attitude and recognize that I am going through difficult times, and that although it hurts, I can use those situations to learn something, to become better somehow.

Being a graduate student in high energy physics has taught me valuable things for my personal life. Things to fix, difficult programs to write (specially the ones that never compile and when they do, they don’t do what you expected 🙂 ) and tons of physics concepts to learn, have been in my daily life for the last three years and a half. When something doesn’t work, I can not  just sit down and cry feeling sorry because my code doesn’t work. I have to fix it somehow. Sometimes I have to get help from other people, or just look in google read about it and try to give it another shot. In the end, when I fix the problem (that usually is just couple lines of code that I didn’t know) I realize that digging around trying to solve the problem, I learned so much about other things, that it impresses me. So, I thought why do not try to have the same attitude in my personal life? I realized, and I know that for many readers this is not something new, that difficult times are just an opportunity to grow, to challenge ourselves, to become better. There are things that probably we’ll never forget, for example when you lose someone you love, it is hard but we have to keep moving and give our best in honor of those who loved us and can’t never be again with us.

Let me finish with a phrase that I know it might be controversial, but that so far, has been very true in my life: That which doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger. -Nietzsche.

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Are you dumb or what?

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

Are you dumb or what?

As part of my research, I have been getting involved with several projects: Tau trigger, Pixel DCS (Detector Control System) and Tau physics analysis. I have been doing what we call service work for CMS for almost 3 and a half years. It has been an interesting experience, but at the same time I was feeling frustrated for not being able to get involved with a physics analysis. Fortunately, my advisor is a very supportive person and he gave me the degree of freedom to go and start a physics analysis, he just told me go for it!

After two classes of quantum field theory and one class of particle physics, I found that I didn’t know what kind of physics that I wanted to do! So, that made me realize: man, I am freaking lost! After doing some research about what I could do in physics, I found an interesting group to work with. To make the long history short, I will just say that I will be working on the study of a Z’ decaying into an electron plus a tau. This is part of the Lepton Flavor Violation (LFV) studies that some people have been working on for some time. When I talked to the leader of the group that studies the Z’ and Neutralino decays that imply LFV, he explained the basic motivations for this study. Soon after that, I was talking to a friend about this (who by the way is very smart but a little bit proud about himself some times) and his first words were: Are you dumb or what?  I don’t think that that analysis is possible. Of course these words coming from him made me feel like an idiot! As any other human being, I have strengths and weaknesses. One of my weaknesses is that I am very sensitive (yeah, I know, I am a girl 🙂 ), but one of my strengths is that I take situations that hurt me and try to learn from them to become better. The words of my friend motivated me to put my service work for couple days on the side and just spend some time to read papers about the subject. It was so cool to find out so many interesting things about this topic (LVF) and the experiments and theories that people have been working on for long time. A good example of it is the MEG experiment, a search experiment, currently being prepared at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) in Switzerland, which is going to start running soon.

I have known for a long time that there are many people smarter than me, but even if I were the smartest person on earth it doesn’t give me the right to call anybody dumb. I think that there are many different types of intelligence. My dad was a very claver guy for math and science but he was not very smart emotionally and he didn’t succeed much in life. I have met people that are so talented in so many ways. I taught physics for a couple years in a high school and learned that those students that were not very good in physics or math had other talents in music, writing, painting or were natural leaders. For that reason my advice to whosoever is reading this blog is to think twice before you call somebody dumb 🙂

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The Higgs apartment

Friday, July 10th, 2009

The Higgs apartment

Is around 9:00 am, the whether is hot and I feel that the sun is burning my head. It has been thirty minutes walking to CERN, I am almost there. I am carrying my back pack which is quite heavy. I have a hundred thoughts in my head: work, my fiancé, my family, get a bank account, find a place where to live, etc…I get to my office and drop my back pack. I go to the little coffee place in building 6 and struggle with my terrible and broken French to ask for an ice tea. Once back at my office, I open my laptop and look at my e-mail hoping to get an answer from one of the landlords that I have contacted to get an apartment or a room near CERN. I found a couple responses: I am sorry, I decided to rent the room to someone else…I breath and say……..crap!

One of my good friends is in the same boat as me, he just got here and hasn’t found a place. We have been looking for an apartment to live together, but at the same time for single rooms too. Whatever comes first we will take it, we need a place to shower and sleep. That is it (being a graduate student in the US does not give you time for more anyway!). My friend is a very particular guy. His style is a little bit different, I think that is called emo (long hair over his face and weird clothes). I know him well and he is a very good guy, so I don’t care the way that he dresses up or the music that he listens to, he is a good human being and that’s all that I care about.

The other day we got excited because we found a great place, it was just perfect. The rent was fair, very close to CERN, furnished and the owner wanted to meet us. He was very friendly by mail and is a scientist, that gives us some hope. We get there, the owner opens the door and looks at me and gently smiles. He looks at my friend and I can see his face….I thought, dude we are screwed! He showed us the place, we were hopping to get it, but I already knew that was not going to happen. Couple days later I confirmed my thoughts. It’s another: I am sorry but I rented the place to someone else.

Time keeps passing by and I have sent tons of e-mails and visited many places. I have walked so much visiting places around CERN. I don’t take the bus to save some money. I got blisters on my feet and in another more private area of my anatomy. I just can tell you that it was very painful!

My friend talked to a friend that knows someone who knows someone (I am not repeating)! There is an apartment, just one bedroom. We go to see it anyway, it looks nice and has a living room where we can fit another bed. The owner agrees to rent it to us. I will be sleeping in the living room, but who cares! I got a place close to CERN and I will share it with a good friend, which makes life more tolerable when you are alone and far away from home.

You might be wondering why this post is the called the Higgs apartment…..well the Higgs is supposed to be everywhere, but very hard to find, so make your own deductions!

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Surely you are joking Mr Florez!

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Surely you are joking Mr Florez!

I was sitting on the airplane from the US to Brussels.   There was a technical problem and the monitors for the TV don’t work. It had been an hour already and people started getting impatient, and with all reason.  It was late and we hadn’t eaten! A child started to cry, which made things even more tense. Suddenly, the lady sitting right next to me introduced herself. She was about 60 years old and had a strong accent.  I asked her where she was originally from and she responded, Israel. I introduced myself and we started the normal conversation that two bored people usually have in a airplane. She looked at me and ask me, “So, Mr Florez what do you do?” I told her that I am a Ph. D student in Particle Physics. Then she asked me my most feared question…oh what is that about?

I smiled and gently tried to explain to her the basic idea.  She smiled and with interest asked me, “How are you going to use this LHC that you are telling me about? What is the practical application of it for the society?”  I took a deep breath and told her I have to be honest — in terms of practical application in the short term, nothing! She laughed hard and said, “Surely you are joking Mr Florez.” Then, I remembered Feynman’s book and smiled!

At that moment I thought that is interesting how people expect a material reward from every job.  Probably, it is something natural in our common sense. I told her that, as scientist, I am curious about the world and the universe around me. I want to know the basic principles of nature to get an idea of how this universe works–not necessarily to apply that knowledge to build something to satisfy or solve a need of humanity.  If it happens, it’s an extra reward. But, does that mean that I am selfish person? I am a student and I have been able to learn so much from other scientists.  I must say that without their guidance I couldn’t  have made much progress in my profession. Science has done amazing things for humanity and great scientific inventions have improved our lives. For instance, the beloved World Wide Web was invented at CERN, the laboratory where the LHC is being build.

I might say that thanks to the studies in particle physics, we have thousands of professionals with great skills in physics, programming, electronics and other areas. Right now, future generations of scientist (including me) are being educated and surely will bring development and science to our countries. Probably we can find amazing things that we will apply in technology in the future. But, for now, this is not the main goal of our experiment.  We just want to understand why we are here and how this universe works!

Finally the plane is ready to leave.  But, a half  hour later, when they tried to play the movie, the TV’s didn’t work….it was a long flight without movies. Very sad…….

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A Sweet Experience getting a French Visa!

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Hello everyone, this is my first post on the US LHC blog. Over the next months I will tell you about my experience moving to CERN and working on the CMS experiment.

Last May I officially became a Ph D candidate after taking my qualifiers. It was a very interesting, productive, intense and stressful experience, as it is supposed to be. The feeling of being done with this part of my Ph D was nice, unfortunately  it lasted very little time.

As is common for graduate students working on one of the LHC experiments, after have taken the qualifiers, the next step is to move to CERN where most of the action is! Personally I enjoy being  at  CERN, the annoying part  is to get there, why?

Well, there are some difficulties when you are Latino and have to move to a different country because most of the people coming from almost any Latin American country need a visa to go basically anywhere outside south  or central America. I am Colombian and unfortunately we need a visa even to breathe! Under these circumstances, I decided to go to Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia to get my French visa. I thought this could be a good idea in order to get to spent some time with my family, because I haven’t been able to be with them in a very long time. I talked to my advisor and committed to get some work done during the first two weeks and then take 10 days of vacation at the end of my stay. The sad part is that there was a problem with my visa and it took longer than expected. Because of that I was waiting every single day for a call from the consulate and I had to send tons of e-mails trying to solve this problem.

In the end I spent the last two weeks of my visit (which was supposed to be my vacation!) dealing with visa stuff. I was stuck in my apartment without being able to go out with my family anywhere before 5 pm, and I had to change my plane tickets to the US and to Geneva which cost a lot of money, leaving me basically broke! Finally everything worked out and I got my visa. Thanks to the help of my advisor I will able to survive in Europe while I wait to get paid. Now I am in the US sitting on a chair at the airport waiting to board the plane to finally go to Geneva!

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