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Monica Dunford | USLHC | USA

Read Bio

First Beam, Last Post

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008


The relief is indescribable. I must have woken up one million times last night thinking, ‘Did we remember…’, ‘What about….’, ‘Did we do….’, ‘Let’s not forget….’.

All Tile experts converged to the control room around 7am, even though beam was not expect until 9:30am. The wait wasn’t so bad until about 9:15 when we had to stop the run and start afresh. Normally to stop the run and restart completely takes about 30 minutes. But every one was working at super human speeds, so we had the run going again at 9:29. At this point, I was absolutely pacing in the control room. I couldn’t hold still for a second.

The beam came to ATLAS (the last on the ring) around 10:20am. The first test they did was to smash the beam into one of the collimator. What we would expect to see in ATLAS is millions of muons flying into the detector. Which is exactly what we saw! The explanation of this picture isn’t important. What is important is that you can see lots and lots of stuff. Tons and tons of muons.

First beam

And now I can relax. Tile. After so much effort from so many people. It works. Just like we knew that it would. But still it is nice to actually see it working. And we can all take a deep breath of relief.

But check out google’s main page today! Here is a snapshot. Not every day your work gets to be on google!

Google atlas

On another note, this will also be my last posting. It has been a very fun year being able to describe my life in the control room and definitely being able to describe this day. In my place, my super-cool friend Kathy Copic (who is also a great cook) is now joining the USLHC blogging team, so keep an eye out for her posts.

And what about Tile? Where will we be? Well in usual Tile fashion we will be barbecuing. And the theme for tonight? ‘The Brazilians are back BBQ’! We are celebrating the return of many of our Brazilian colleagues.

Oh and there is beam. We’ll toast to that too!


Wednesday Expectations

Sunday, September 7th, 2008

First beam is quickly approaching. For ATLAS. Actually several other experiments have already seen beam (it is hinted that CMS will see something today). But as ATLAS is the last experiment on the ring, it means that we have to wait until the 10th. It is annoying being the last on the ring sometimes.

For the 10th, the beam is only a single beam, so there will be no collisions. But it is still exciting all the same. And what can we expect to see in the detector with single beam? Two things.

One is ‘beam halo’ events. These are muons which have left the beam core and are moving along side the beam. The other is ‘beam gas interactions’ which are when one of the protons in the beam collides with some other particle in the beam pipe (the beam pipe is under vacuum but no vacuum is perfect). Even with these two types of events, we don’t expect to see a lot of hits in the detector. But even a few hits tells us a lot. Single beam is also very useful to help us establish our timing. This means determining when to read-out our electronics relative to when the beam bunch enters the detector. In other words, we won’t be sitting around, bored come Wednesday.

Someone once asked me what ATLAS planned to celebrate with. And the answer is… Champagne, of course. We even have it prepped and ready to go in control room (as seen here). The label reads ‘Break in case of collisions’. Not a problem.

Atlas celebrate


After First Beam

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

If you haven’t already, check out Peter’s posting on the first findings of the LHC. He does a nice job of discussing the basic foundations we need to establish first before we can focus on the ‘sexy’ physics; supersymmetry, the higgs, extra dimensions, etc. But before we can even do the studies that Peter mentions, we have to first calibrate and understand the detector. This in itself is no easy task.

Now that Sept 10th has been set as the day of first beam, the most frequent question I get these days is, ‘So, when are you going to see the higgs?’

I wish that I knew. But it is really impossible to put a timeline on something like this. So the answer is ‘I don’t know’. And if you are annoyed by physicists refusing to estimate when results will be ready, then you are not alone. I was speaking with a journalist earlier this week, who was clearly exasperated with me on this point. This was the gist of our conversation.

Journalist: What is the next milestone for ATLAS after first collisions?
Me: Once there are collisions, our next steps will be in the understanding of and the final calibration of the detector.
Journalist: And how long until that is finished and there are first results? A few hours?
Me: ATLAS has roughly 100 million electronics channels and nine different detector technologies. Calibration of that full system is incredibly complex.
Journalist: Two days?
Me: When we are satisfied that any detector-induced effects in the data are understood, we will confirm that we can observe the particles that we already know exist. Particles like the W and Z bosons.
Journalist: One week?
Me: Then we can be in a position to search for physics beyond the standard model.
Journalist: Two weeks?

In the mist of the first beam excitement, I hate to sound like a killjoy about the timeline for new physics results. But I think the focus is wrong. The next milestones for ATLAS might not be Higgs discovery but they are very exciting. Right now, even the background to the Higgs search is unknown to us. And as Peter mentions this is extremely interesting in its own right. So, who knows maybe by the time we are ready to search for the Higgs, it won’t be the most exciting particle in physics anymore….


The It Date

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

Since I have been blogging for close to a year now, let’s summarize my topics.

In the control room, taking cosmics data
In the control room again taking cosmics data
Crazy athletic adventure
Control room, More cosmics
Control room, yet again
Control room, still
Control room, yes still
More crazy athletic adventures
Control room
Control room
Control room, what am I still doing here?
Euro Cup
Euro Cup
Euro Cup
Euro Cup
Euro Cup
Euro cup over, banished to control room again
Control room
Control room. Again
Control room. Again. Again.

So… I spend a lot of time in the control room. If you haven’t noticed. And needless to say I am in the control room while writing this. This comes as no surprise.

September 10th. This is the new ‘it’ date. On this day, single beam will run around the ring (and through ATLAS) for the first time. And every reporter on the planet will be there. Many of them in the ATLAS control room (which is why I am strategically staking claim on my control room chair now).

Now don’t get me wrong, I cannot WAIT for beam. The 10th can’t come soon enough. But after long days I tell myself, ‘you think you spend a lot of time in the control room now… wait until there is beam’…. But although I do love sleep. And although the prospect of getting sleep is pretty dim for the months of September, October and November, you couldn’t pay me enough to leave the control room. Not now. Not with first beam in our grasp.

So is it September 10th yet?
How about now?


Organizing Fairness

Monday, August 4th, 2008

Once, a very long time ago, I made the personal resolution that my job would never require making or looking at charts like this

I thought. Physics, that is the complete opposite of practical. That is perfect.

Yet, even in Physics, management tasks are necessary. And I have clearly failed in this resolution. Because I have to deal with charts like this all the time.

The surprising thing is that once you start making organizational charts like this, you can really get into them. I mean, I have had hours of conversations with people about whether or not this line should be dashed versus solid. Or do we call it a ‘shift’ versus a ‘task’? Or should we name this ‘Data-Quality Validation’ or ‘Detector-Quality Assessment’? These are very important questions.

Life in high-energy physics is in many ways just like any other job. There are the things that everyone wants to do. Like discover Supersymmetry and win the Nobel Prize. And there are the things that nobody wants to do but are absolutely necessary to be done. Like spending hours and hours in the control room making sure the detector is working properly.

And in this field, we believe very strongly that every person must do his/her fair share of the dirty work.

Therefore to monitor ‘fairness’ within ATLAS, my all-time favorite acronym was created: OTSMOU.

This stands for ‘Operation Task Sharing and Maintenance and Operation Update’. If you have no idea what that means, you are not alone. No one else on ATLAS does either.

I love OTSMOU, I really do. Because it offers such an excellent anthropological insight into the inner working of physicist’s mind. The purpose of OTSMOU is to ensure that there is an even distribution of dirty work (or more politely service work) for all physicists. In other words, no one gets to eat the cake without having helped set-up for the party first. It sounds like a simple task in principle, but it has been attacked with the same statistical methods and precision as searches for new physics. Different jobs and people have different weights. We have ‘tasks’ versus ‘privileges’. We have charts (like above) to display how the different tasks fit into the ‘big picture’. We have graphs and distributions to plot all the results (by funding agency even).

Fairness, like so many other aspects in life, is one of those things which theoretically is so simple to understand and yet requires very complicated software to actually achieve.


Italian BBQ

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

Tile is rather notorious for its frequent parties. And every time we usually have some theme. Sometimes the Brazilians will cook, or the Georgians, or the Lebanese, or the Americans. But much to our shock and dismay, we realized that we have never had an Italian BBQ.

Now. The word BBQ in itself sort of implies a laissez-faire, relaxed, let’s-all-gather-around-the-grill kind of an attitude. But not for the Italians. They take food, in any form, very seriously.

The BBQ was Tuesday night. They started cooking on Saturday. And they have been cooking since.

And the Italians make up quite a large fraction of Tile. So basically, no work was getting done for Tile this week.

For example, here is a typical conversation with any Tile Italian this week.

Me: Do you have some time to meet in order to discuss the upgrades to the monitoring we need for beam?
Tile Italian: Yes… But I am extremely busy until Tuesday. Can we meet after Tuesday?
Me: Sure no problem. What is keeping you so occupied?
Tile Italian: It is the Tile Italian BBQ and the Bolognese sauce needs my attention!

But as can be imagined, the food was incredible. We even had our own personal pizza chef (who actually works on the high-level trigger but we made him an honorary Tile person for the night).

Tile Italian BBQ

And as can be imagined as well, the Italians cooked WAY too much food. So we are now having ‘Italian Lunch’ today. And tomorrow. And Friday…


Getting Ready

Friday, July 18th, 2008

The most feared/longed for date on ATLAS right now is August 11th. This is the day where we have to be out of the cavern. It is feared for people who are still completing the last of the detector installation, longed for by everyone (including those still doing installation) because it means beam is coming.

And only a few short weeks after the cavern closure, we can expect single beam (only one circulating beam with no collisions). And only a few short weeks after that, we can expect colliding beams.

So will ATLAS be ready? I find that I am asked this question more and more with each passing day. And the answer is…. Yes. Now if you ask me whether or not the calorimeters will be ready, the answer is a very definite yes! The calorimeters right now are in really good shape. Everything is installed, everything is powered, everything is being read-out.

It makes me so happy to say that.  When I started on ATLAS two years ago, Tile had problems with its power supplies. So we had essentially no supplies. And we needed 256.  We weren’t officially in the ‘panic’ state at that point, but we were certainly in the ‘very concerned’ state.

And now fast-forward less than two years. We are fully powered. With the exception of only a few Tile cells (0.4% for the exact count), all of our electronics are ready to go. Not that we don’t have things to still work on (I mean it is friday night and I am yet again still in the control room) but we are sitting pretty. And that is a really, really good feeling.

So beam-people. Is the beam ready yet?

How about now?







Getting the news

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

Recently one of my posts received the following comment and I thought it merited a more thorough explanation.

I heard a magnet broke. When will it be fixed? Why is this information not easier for the public to access – am I just an idiot? – Tony

First about the magnet tests. There are four major ‘parts’ to ATLAS magnet system; the solenoid magnet, the barrel toroid magnet and two end-cap toroid magnets. In the past few weeks, extensive tests on all of these systems have been ongoing. During the tests, a leak in one of the end-cap toriod Helium cooling pipes was discovered. As a result the tests on this magnet stopped so that the leak could be fixed. But the repair is already completed and there was not a large impact on ATLAS’ schedule.

But in regards to the second question, ‘No Tony, you are not an idiot!’ Even within ATLAS, it is very difficult to get the latest news. To keep up-to-date on recent ATLAS activities, I highly recommend the ATLAS e-news. The ATLAS e-news is a weekly publication highlighting the latest issues within ATLAS. It is aimed for ATLAS collaborators. But as the e-news is written by three professional science writers, the technical jargon is kept to a minimum. There is also a version of the e-news aimed for the general public but this is not updated as frequently.

So check out the ATLAS e-news. It has not only all the interesting news but also profiles of people on ATLAS as well as cool pictures.



Monday, June 30th, 2008

And the winner of the Euro Cup is… SPAIN!!!

This is too good to be true. Needless to say, I am totally thrilled. For so many years, we fans of the Spanish team have waited patiently for this moment. I mean, who can forget Spain’s painful loss in penalties to South Korea in the quarter finals of the 2002 World Cup? Or barely not advancing to the quarter finals in Euro 2004? Or that devastating loss to France in the round of 16 of the World Cup 2006? But only one victory makes up for all the losses.

So, what is next?

For Spain. World Cup 2010 and victory again!!

For non-soccer fans. A return to sanity.

For me. It’s back to work.


Simultaneous Work and Play

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

Another weekend of combined ATLAS running.

In the past we would try to exercise the combined system in these big ‘Milestone’ weeks. And those haven’t gone away but now as the beam looms nearer and nearer we have added weekly-weekend combined running as well.

In other words: There goes my summer completely.

ATLAS is just big. In all dimensions. In physical size, in the amount of electronics, in the number of computers, in the number of people. Everything. And so it is no wonder that when we try to get all the little parts of this big system running smoothly together it takes a lot of time.

And getting the system running is exactly what me and several others spent 17 consecutive hours doing last Friday. But! We had things to keep us happy. Initially I was bummed that I was stuck in the control room while the Euro cup quarter-finals were being played.

But hey, this is a high-tech experiment. With a very nice big flat screen, nominally used for displaying the beam parameters. But since there is no beam, why not use it to display… say… Croatia vs. Turkey…

By the end of the night, we had the combined run set-up and the game on the big screen. Here is the video which proves that while we were indeed watching the game, the run was actually going. As the footage was taken from a phone, it is a little hard to see but the zoom in on the computer screen shows a happily running detector. Really.