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Mike Anderson | USLHC | USA

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New Record Beam Energy!

Friday, March 19th, 2010

Click for live beam status.

Early this morning in Geneva, for the first time ever, both proton beams were each ramped to 3.5 TeV.  This is higher than when the LHC set the record for highest energy collisions in December.

The image here is the current beam status.  Keep your eye out for more high energy beams later today!



Not in US? No content for you!

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Screen shot 2010-03-15 at 5.05.58 PM

Websites I’m used to using daily in the US deny me from visiting when I’m here at CERN.  Maybe it’s their way of telling me to get back to work – those particles aren’t going to detect themselves.

Screen shot 2010-03-15 at 5.13.37 PM

So no Pandora, no Hulu, and…

Screen shot 2010-03-15 at 5.18.48 PM…you too, youtube? Sad!



Access for People

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Click for live LHC beam status.

We don’t let people go down underground to certain areas to check or fix things while the beam is on.  There’s always a tiny chance of losing control of a beam, or protons in the beam interacting with the beam pipe and creating other high-energy particles that could go through people.

Even when the beam is off, other hazards include the fact that the beam pipe magnets are cooled with a lot of liquid helium. The beam pipe is about 300 feet underground, so should enough of that liquid be warmed enough to turn into gas quickly it would make it hard have enough oxygen down there to breathe.

Anyway, when you see “Access” on the LHC beam status page it means people are down underground somewhere trying to check or fix something and so the beam will remain off until they’re out of harm’s way.



Dangerous Meat?

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

SteaksWhen I wrote about the costs of everyday things in France (like food) compared to a typical midwestern city last fall, I focused only money.  My main interest was showing how students and other physicists who come to CERN have to change their budget from what they might be used to.

Food overall is more expensive in France, but the cost of meat is an especially noticeable difference because it is twice or more as expensive per pound as in the US.

One of the reasons why meat is so cheap in the US was mentioned in the New York Times recently (The Spread of Superbugs):

A study by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that in the United States, 70 percent of antibiotics are used to feed healthy livestock, with 14 percent more used to treat sick livestock…Dr. Martin J. Blaser, chairman of the department of medicine at New York University Langone Medical Center, and a former president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, agrees that agricultural use of antibiotics produces cheaper meat. But he says the price may be an enormous toll in human health.

In that study by the Union of Concerned Scientists from a few years ago, they specifically mention a difference between Europe and the US:

Approximately 13.5 million pounds of antimicrobials prohibited in the European Union are used in agriculture for nontherapeutic purposes every year by U.S. livestock producers.

Basically, yeah, meat is cheaper in the US compared to France, due in part to heavy antibiotic use, but this may be leading to the development of bacteria immune to drugs we need to treat people.

Scary stuff.  Now if I could only figure out why other things are so much more expensive in France, like movie tickets and clothes…


Live LHC Status Page

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

There is a status page, available on the web we watch while in our detector control room which shows what the LHC beam people are up to.  This is a live, constantly updated picture.

What you have to remember is there are the accelerator people (LHC) and then there are the detector people (CMS, ATLAS, LHCb, ALICE…) and we’re all in separate control rooms far from each other.  So the LHC, which provides the proton collisions, has to keep the detector people informed about what’s going to happen and when. This status page is one way of keeping the detector people informed.

The large graph in the middle (if there) shows the “intensity vs time” of the two proton beams (B1 & B2).  Anything less than “1E9” is zero – no beam.  While “intensity” is a count of number of protons in the beam, “energy” of these protons is a different thing, and listed at the top-center.  At the time of this writing, I can see “E: 450 GeV”.  That number will make it’s way up to 3,500 GeV in several weeks.

The “comments” box is also useful to watch, as it typically tells us what the LHC beam people are about to do. There, one might also see phrases like “beam dumped” which means the beam was purposefully thrown away – slammed into a giant wall underground.  “Injection” means putting protons into an accelerator.  If you’re curious, there is a full list of LHC acronyms you might see.

Keep an eye out for green “true” images in the lower right by “Stable Beam”, because that’s when we can have good proton collisions to record.



People aren’t good happiness predictors

Monday, March 1st, 2010

If you don’t let yourself be happy now, then when?
If not now, when?

SmileyParticlePeople are bad at predicting the future emotional consequences of decisions they have to make or events that may happen to them. There’s plenty of science to back it up, and I bring this up because a recent post on how to pick grad schools reminded me of this.

We (everyone) get really stressed out when we try to decide things like what school to go to, or where to work, or live, or who to marry.  And we stress out as if doing one thing vs another would make all the difference between a life where we’ll be super-happy or a life where we will be utterly miserable.

This is often wrong, and is just one of several typical errors people make when trying to predict how they’ll feel in the future.

One researcher who’s really good at explaining why we’re poor-predictors is Dan Gilbert at Harvard.  His TED talk on happiness is pretty good and worth checking out.

We tend to think there are two kinds of happiness: the happiness you feel down the road after you’ve received exactly what you wanted (like admittance to a great school), and the happiness you feel (eventually) after you didn’t get what you wanted.  And we tend to think those levels of happiness are different.

It turns out, a few months or a year down the road, people who got exactly what they wanted and those who didn’t have statistically equivalent levels of happiness.  That’s really hard to believe isn’t it?  We tend not to believe the people who didn’t get what they wanted when they say they’re happy.  “Yeah right, you wanted to go to X, but ended up going to Y, and you think you’re happy?”

I used to not believe those people either, but such a position has become hard to hold on to.  Things we think are such a big deal, things that are just so important, turn out down the road not to have such a long term affect on our happiness as we thought they would.

I’m not saying one shouldn’t have preferences.  But please keep in mind as you make what you think are tough decisions, that no matter what school you get into, what research you pursue, or what job you get, or where you choose to live, or etc, – eventually you’ll be about as happy with one thing as you would have been with another.

Research shows that you’re a bad predictor of happiness – most everyone is – but it also shows you will do just fine in life despite that.  So don’t worry.



Particles to the People!

Monday, February 22nd, 2010


This weekend our department had a Physics Fair, free to the public, where hundreds of parents and kids came and learned about the research we’re involved in. There were grad students and professors available from many research groups including plasma, condensed matter, astrophysics, particle physics, and more.


Hey that's my experiment!

I enjoyed interacting with the public and letting them know people from their community are involved in a project they’ve actually heard about in the news. Of course, many people who had heard of a “hadron collider”, heard about it because of “black hole” fear stories.  Not that anyone was really afraid, it’s just that newspapers liked to make eye-catching, sensational headlines (like shown here).

If that’s what it takes to get on the cover of some newspapers, I’ll take it.  It’s a starting point, and at least gets people talking.

We had a few things for kids to look at, including a cloud chamber to see particles from cosmic rays.

Another thing we had for kids was a “quark puzzle”, which was an improved design from previous fairs.  See it here:


Quark Puzzle! (click to see larger image)

With this, kids could put together up and down quarks in whatever combinations of 3 they wished to create ether a delta-minus, neutron, proton, or delta-plus-plus.  Then they pasted them together using a “gluon” glue stick.  The quarks fit together in such a way that they can only make a circle with quarks of all three colors: red, green, and blue.

I know, I know, it’s way low budget, but a surprising number of kids enjoyed pasting quarks together.  Some kids made pasted together a bunch of quarks and were really excited to be bringing home so many particles.


Make-up of a CERN Collaboration

Thursday, February 11th, 2010
Screen shot 2010-02-11 at 3.10.40 PM

Grad students working for the CMS detector.

The experiments at CERN are, in total, a collaboration of several thousands of physicists, scientists, engineers, and students. Here I show the make-up of just graduate students from just one of the experiments at CERN, the CMS detector.

People come from all over the world to contribute to these projects. It’s fantastic that so many countries and cultures are represented, and work with each other on common goals such as: recreating the big bang in the lab, studying these mini big-bangs to understand out the laws of nature that govern our universe, and then sharing these discoveries with people all over the world.

These are lofty goals, but you can be sure that whatever discoveries are made, with all the languages spoken at CERN, the knowledge will spread far.



Running with Scissors

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010


We are at the stage now where the ability to crank up the intensity and energy of the LHC beams to full power is at hand.  We’re like a toddler that just learned to walk: the urge to run is present and exciting, but the probability of banging our head would be high!

It has been decided through many meetings, and with considerations of experts on the front lines, that the highest, safest energy the beams can be run at without major repairs is 3.5 TeV per beam with an instantaneous luminosity of 2*1032/cm2/sec. (The LHC was designed for 7 TeV per beam and an intensity of 1034/cm2/sec.)

More intensity means more proton collisions, and more energy means high probability of interesting collisions.  Unfortunately, high intensity and high energy also means high risk of accidents – like the one in Sep 2008.

With that in mind, management decided to balance safety of the machine with the drive to explore and make discoveries.  So, the current plan sets a goal of collecting a specific amount of data, 1 fb-1, before shutting down for one or two years starting around the beginning of 2012 for repairs and upgrades.

If nature is hiding secrets in areas we now expect them, then this should provide enough data for discovering some of them, or at least allow ruling out some theories – and all without hurting ourselves.



Daily Grind

Monday, January 18th, 2010
Screen shot 2010-01-18 at 1.07.58 PM

The color scheme I enjoy coding in (and my favorite programming language).

What is the main thing that a graduate students in particle physics spends most of their time doing?

Here are the most common activities:

A) Working with pen & paper, staring at equations, using computers to help solve/simplify those equations

B) Building/fixing hardware, Running wires, Connecting cables, Soldering connections

C) Writing computer code, Debugging code written by others, Documenting code

D) Reading/writing papers, Attending meetings, Preparing/giving presentations

This list probably generic enough that it could apply to a grad student in any science field.  (I hope for sanity’s sake that nobody spends most of their time attending meetings.) (more…)