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Paul Jackson | CERN | Switzerland

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Nearly there……we hope…..

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Cautious optimism continues. The scene in the ATLAS control room is, shall we say, busier than normal. As you can see from these pictures:

The ATLAS control room, with lots of people waiting eagerly

The ATLAS control room, with lots of people waiting eagerly

Same people, similar time, different view. Note the gathered press etc through the glass!!

Same people, similar time, different view. Note the gathered press etc through the glass!!

It’s all looking quite positive as I write this. It’s almost 8pm and I couldn’t make it into the control room myself (the last meeting of my day was ongoing until about 7.30pm so I was out of luck) but I’m of the opinion that too many cooks spoil the broth on this one. Plus, I am far from necessary to make the dream a reality at this point. Still, I’m a little jealous of these very excited people. So I am hearing from friends, via text message and facebook updates how things are going in the ACR. It sounds like a good time, but a nervous time, is being had by all.

I’m also keeping track of the beam progress here where we can nicely see that things are progressing smoothly.

A screenshot for those interested is below:

Back in 15 mins (gone for a coffee and a smoke!)

Back in 15 mins (gone for a coffee and a smoke!)

One thing I like very much is to look at the *actual* ATLAS web cams. Not the control room, with all the people milling around, most of whom are pretending to look important in case they get caught on camera yawning. The *actual* detector which you can see here.
There’s a screenshot at the bottom part of the page.

ATLAS: what's all this talk about beam then?

ATLAS: what's all this talk about beam then?

I love looking at these pictures of the detector, because it reminds me of one thing. Nobody is down there. Trust me, I’ve looked. I keep checking these webcams expecting to see some joker who’s trying to get a better view, or making a political statement, but of course that’s not possible, the protection and safety systems simply would not allow it. So while we all look at our screens on the surface, the real action is quite a lonely interaction, between beam and detector. It is that separation, the fact that we can’t really be down there when “it” happens, when anything happens, that is really quite poetic. The fact that one can look side-by-side at these actual shots of the detector, and of the people controlling it is a very interesting thing, and something I’m finding to be an amusing experiment. When some activity occurs in the detector, that is beam related, this counting room will explode into life. People will be cheering, there will be champagne, back slapping, who know, maybe the odd high-five, and all of that good stuff. Might I add, this is very well deserved as some of these people work extremely hard to see such things, and have been waiting for this moment for many many years. However, contrast that with the picture of the detector at that very same moment. She will be a picture of tranquility and calm, almost oblivious to what has gone on; and as people celebrate above her, drinking and cheering, ATLAS will still sit there with a look of, “was that it?” slapped all over her muon chambers.

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Commissioning done…..it’s go time!

Friday, November 20th, 2009

I missed out on posting this a couple of days ago but it’s a nice summary of the LHC commissioning status. The key features, as of Wednesday November 18th, are these:
* All 8 LHC Sectors are now under the responsibility of the beam operation group

* All 1572 superconducting circuits have been commissioned and now READY FOR THE FIRST BEAM RUN

* The Hardware Commissioning team wish the Operation Crew a terrific success with the challenging Beam Commissioning.

The eagle-eyed (wanted to try and squeeze EAGLE into this post as a tip-of-the-cap to one of the early ATLAS efforts) among you will have noticed the big words, “READY”, “FOR”, “THE”, “FIRST”, “BEAM” and “RUN”.

The LHC is ready! But wait, we’ve been here before right? Last year? This thing doesn’t work, there are birds with baguettes trying to ruin our fun, and, it gets cold in the winter, and, “Handball!” (do the right thing France), and,
was that Tom Hanks?, and, oh wait you mean you tested it now, and, oh the QPS is functioning well, and, oh, it’s ready.

LHC latest news can be followed here and there is word of beams circulating the machine before the end of the weekend.

Today it’s the turn of ATLAS to experience some beam and I’ll report on that a bit later.
CMS have already recorded “splash” events as you can see from the image here. Let’s hope that by this time next week things are still as positive and upbeat as they are today.

CMS splashed

CMS splashed

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Back in the ACR

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

I’m putting in my fair share of work these days with the imminent arrival of something special into this world soon (just to nip it in the bud early, no I do not mean I’m becoming a father, not just yet at least). Beams are this years baby. Who knows, if we’re lucky, by the end of the year, birds and baguettes permitting, we may even collide them. If we do have collisions I would bet on one thing, they will be done very carefully and there will be no risks taken whatsoever. Stating the obvious there I suppose but, well, we are in a cautiously optimistic mood these days.

The ACR as I have mentioned previously is the ATLAS Control room and after a couple of weeks hiatus working on other worthwhile tasks I was back on shift this morning. A few things have changed in the past weeks.The ATLAS mural is to provide some visual excitement to an otherwise drab building. A great idea! You can see point 1 as you drive past CERN and actually being able to see what the experiment looks like as you drive past really adds to the mystery and excitement surrounding the place. It also saves parents having to convince their kids by saying,”hey Billy, there’s something really cool going on 100m below that large concrete building over there.” A exclamation that would likely be met with a, “whatever Dad/Mum”, or the equivalent in French perhaps.

The ATLAS mural: provide colour, wonder and imagination to the exterior of the building while the boffins do likewise within.

The ATLAS mural: provides colour, wonder and imagination to the exterior of the building while the boffins do likewise within.

Coupled with the exterior painting, is a rushed job to paint the interior areas of point 1 around the ATLAS control room. This is causing a bit of a problem as people are having more trouble getting in and out than usual, and since the traffic milling around the control room has unsurprisingly risen recently things are less than ideal. It made my getting to the coffee machine this morning a near gargantuan task which isn’t quite what I needed (what I needed was the coffee!). In a similar vein, a fancy revolving door was put in last year as ATLAS neared the business end of operations and all the world’s dignitaries were coming over for a gander. Hopefully the painters rush won’t be wasted.

From coloured walls to color charge (I should trademark that segueway) the detector is running smoothly. Very smoothly in fact. Collecting stable overnight runs, ironing out some minor problems along the way, testing new access methods to the computers at point 1, among many other things. This collaboration has really pulled it’s collective socks up, and the amount of hard work and long nights put in to make us ready to lovingly accept whatever beam is sent our way is always impressive to me. I’m not immune myself, far from it. I find it extremely inspiring and tend to do most of my best work in an intense and vital time as this one most assuredly is. I’m pulling together several aspects of the analysis I am planning to unleash on the data we collect, while also working to understand the current functioning of the ATLAS pixel detector to make it as efficient and safe as possible for the weeks ahead. But perhaps most importantly are the shifts: taking part, doing your share, pitching in, one of the crowd, waiting in the control room, champagne on ice.

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Random encounters

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

Not trying to open up a quantum diarists “travel off”, particular given some of the posts Ingrid and Frank have put up in recent months regarding their away from home shenanigans I wanted to mention a peculiarity I realised yesterday. During the last week I was back in the bay area visiting SLAC, which is always a great pleasure as I have many old friends and colleagues there, and spending a couple of days at LBL, starting to learn some new hardware I hope to work on as part of the inner detector upgrade for ATLAS. A very productive trip. On my way back I flew on United. As a US department of energy employee I have to fly on a US carrier whenever there is a chance to do so and United is usually a safe bet, given they now have a flight from Geneva to Washington-Dulles. So, while strolling through Dulles (that I have now taken to calling “Dullest” due to it’s lack of flair and general drab decor) I saw a fellow physicist who was on her way to a meeting in the US. She was as surprised as I when I interrupted her and said hello. We chatted about physics, unsurprisingly, and the state of our mutual endeavours for a few minutes and then parted ways, off to catch our respective flights. While walking away I then bumped into another physicist I know, this time only exchanging a brief hello as it’s fair to say it seemed a bit weird to me to bump into two people I know in a large airport within seconds of each other.

This happens often when people are leaving Geneva or all going to or from the same conference, but it’s much less common to just happen across someone while traversing the globe. If it wasn’t for physics I could pretty safely say that I would not be bumping into people I know in Washington airport, one of the many quirks of the quarks.

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Back to school

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

I made a trip ‘home’ a couple of weeks ago for a less than pleasing family related reason (my mother was in hospital for an operation). Although I haven’t lived in the same country I grew up in for well over a decade now, a trip back to England is always exciting to me. I landed in Manchester and after visiting the hospital there for a few days I took advantage of being close to where I grew up, and went back to my old school. Not for any sinister reason like putting a brick through a window or writing graffiti on the walls, quite the contrary in fact. I contacted one of the teacher’s at the school who has recently been pushing teaching particle physics to year 12 and 13 students ( a new terminology for me, but apparently it means they are between 16 and 18 years old) and he was delighted to have me drop by and chat with them a bit.
In fact the school have arranged for some of the students to visit CERN later this month and so my timing, although inadvertent, could not have been better. I met a teacher at the reception (which felt more like ‘security’), signed in and was immediately whisked away into a class of adolescents. I was then plonked in front of them and apparently expected to inspire them to take up a career in physics. During those first few moments a strange feeling came over me: I was nervous. Actually really quite a bit bloody nervous if truth be told. I’m a good public speaker, confident in front of people and have no trouble standing in front of a room and speaking about, well, anything actually. But in front of this room of students, without the comfortable sofa of a well-prepared set of powerpoint slides to fall back onto, I was a bit shaky. In hindsight it was because I really felt that this mattered. Nobody came in and talked to us about opportunities like this when I was at school there. Nobody told me I could get a job in another country, do research into something I thought was interesting, work the hours I choose to and with people who stimulate my thoughts on things. So there I stood, growing back my confidence as I went on about my own career and the work at CERN to the ever eager students. At some point, I shut up, and sort of smiled at them and asked if they had any questions. Occasionally a death knell I was welcomed by the raising of many hands and a few chuckles. So, one-by-one we went through what they did and didn’t understand. If they said that the thought they shouldn’t ask a question because it was stupid I convinced them to ask it. None of the questions were stupid. In fact they were a well informed group of young people who have already been taught some useful concepts in quantum mechanics and particle physics. I took the often asked question of “How much money do you earn?” to be a thinly disguised version of “I’m kind of into this whole working in physics thing, but want to know what I will get paid before I decide whether to do it or not.”

The whole ‘outreach’ thing can comes in many guises but for me, none could be more satisfying than going back to your old school to help them out a bit. Maybe one day a future particle physics will go back and reminisce about the day they were inspired into the field by a former student.

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“nuclear”+”al-qaeda”=”press orgasm”

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

The arrest by French police last Thursday of a particle physicist on allegations that he has links with Al Qaeda has generated some potentially misleading statements and headlines in the press:
Dr Adlene Hicheur, 32, who worked in Switzerland, had previously been based at the top-secret Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire and is suspected of involvement with the North African arm of Al Qaeda. He has now apparently been charged with “criminal activities related to a terrorist group”.

Dr Hicheur has been referred to as a “nuclear scientist” in the press and similar liberal uses of language have allowed the press to paint a picture of this particle physicist in whatever way they see fit.
An example, from ‘The Independent’, is included here:
“Adlène Hicheur appears to have specialised in the measurement side of nuclear physics. His office at Cern was in the main complex, where the collider is located. His academic papers have included accounts of research on the “electronic width of the Upsilon particle” and “measurement of the branching ratios of colour suppressed decays”. His recent work at Cern has included “studying, improving and designing new tracking tools” to measure the effects when the collider finally operates.”

This is *only* clearly incorrect to the trained eye, as, “improving and designing new tracking tools” mean something completely different to a high energy physicist than to anyone else picking up a newspaper. “Tracking tools”, in the sense of the LHCb experiment where Hicheur worked, correspond to alignment of detectors and following particles through them, usually requiring a lot of effort, something I seem to recall Hicheur having worked on for many years now. Yet I imagine what “tracking tools” means to the average person reading an article including the buzz words “terrorism” and “nuclear” is something rather different though.

It is dangerous that the general public may misconstrue these stories. CERN, and other high-energy physics labs which
are frankly incriminated in some of the press coverage, are not involved in any research that could be considered a threat.
The labs resemble a cross between University campuses and large company complexes. There are no sinister activities lurking in the underground tunnels and for most part there is no “nuclear” physics going on. With all due respect to my colleagues most of us have a basic knowledge of nuclear physics that most University science students could match.
CERN have issued a few press statements since the arrest meant to quell any fears and reiterate that the lab is pursuing a mission of research in particle physics and nothing untoward. But this isn’t slowing the media seemingly having a field day with all of their popular science buzz words:”al-qaeda”, “God particle”,”nuclear”, “Big Bang”, “terrorist”, the journalists much be salivating!!

I know nothing of the details of this case but I’d be surprised if there were such coverage without some evidence existing. We will wait and see how this transpires but if he has been found guilty of the charges Hicheur will surely face a very stiff penalty.

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Shift drifter

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

It’s morning, late September, in the ATLAS control room. We’re coming to the end of a long overnight run and
I have just started a shift. It really is fair to say that of the few of us currently in the control room, the gentleman
doing the cleaning is the most active. He has cleaned every desktop thoroughly and forced each and every
one of us out of our chairs so that he can sweep the floors, with vigor. I’ve been up earlier than usual for
quite a few days now. Day shifts start at 7am and so for me that means about a 5.30am wake up time in order
to leave sufficient minutes to consume the gallon of coffee necessary for me to be considered safe on the roads.
The lady who runs the patisserie across the road from my house (one of the best in existence – the bakery I mean
not the lady, who is pleasant don’t get me wrong, but probably not ‘one of the best women in existence’) is starting
to give me strange looks as I’ve been waiting outside for her to unlock her doors for the last couple of days. I’m
pretty sure she knows me as “that guy who asks for un baguette and NOT une baguette”, something I’ve been
skillfully avoiding recently by only purchasing multiple baguettes and hence avoiding the need to memorize the
gender of my baked goods. It was cold today and surprisingly busy as I sped towards point 1. Now I’m here,
morning shafts of light start to break in through the mighty windows behind me. I’m sat at the pixel desk
(for those of you who know the ACR) watching my four screens do very little as the run keeps going, we’re at
12h 8m and, lets call it 45 secs. The cleaner is now putting the rest of us to shame by vacuuming the floors,
leaving behind an air of guilt at the apparent lack of actual work being accomplished in the control room.
The plan for my shift is to:
a) If anything starts flashing red find out why it’s flashing and red.
b) Start doing some calibrations and try to ensure I don’t have to do a).
c) Wait for something to happen

A lot of us take shifts for reasons other than the actual act of shift-taking. In a smooth running, ideal physics
data-taking world, the shift allows one to get on with some real work. Imagine being stuck in a room for 8 hours
with nothing much to do, it affords one the opportunity to get on with all manner of work. On a good
data-taking shift there is little to do and you can get a lot done, which is great. Personally I kind of enjoy the
problem solving of things actually happening and having to respond to the a)’s in my tongue-in-cheek shift
plan above. This afternoon should leave plenty of problem solving time as we work on changing the rate
of data-taking, check for things going busy, disable modules ‘losing clock’ and work on upgrading
formatters. Fantastic stuff!

Even though we’d really like to get a lot of work done on shift there is always the possibility that you might goof off
for a bit and stop checking your panels and instead surf the web, write some emails….or work on a blog entry.

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ITB….

Friday, September 25th, 2009

……stands for, of course, ‘in the bag’ which is precisely where our recording is safely and
comfortably nestling right now.
We spent 3 hours in the studio and managed to easily lay down our one track (and almost
did the impossible and recorded two songs). It sounds amazing and we didn’t need more
than two takes to record any of the individual tracks. I take care of the vocals and it was
a pretty intense experience laying down this song with a difficult chorus to hit.
The song will be included on the upcoming ATLAS cd which will be available to give to your
best friends or worst enemies this coming Christmas. Accompanying it will be a dvd with
behind-the-scenes footage of the recordings, and interviews with the band members.

I’ll let you know when I know more about the release date. But for now we’re pretty
happy to have contributed to this outreach effort……and we’re proud of our work!!

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International (musical) Collaborations

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

This year I’ve been involved in a band which has been a lot of fun. Predominantly for meeting some cool people
at CERN and making some great friends. Also, though, for making some great music. The name of the band is
AWESOME (Awesome, Which Exudes Some Outstanding Musical Excellence), where every good ATLAS physicist
knows the golden rule: everything can be made into an acronym!

The list of band members is too big to reproduce here (seriously), mainly due to the fact that our time here at
CERN is finite and people will arrive, join the band for a while, and then leave. Also, time constraints, travel,
and other responsibilities prevent us all from being available at all times. A current core group of 4 of us will be
heading to the studio this week to record two tracks specially prepared for an all ATLAS musical extravaganza
of recording. Essentially ATLAS will be funding a cd and accompanying DVD to document musical folks from
within the collaboration where at least one band member must be part of the collaboration, in our case though,
all of us are. The personnel heading into the recording fire are representative of the international nature of our
collaboration and are, myself (English), Eddie Nebot (Spanish), Christian Ohm (Swedish) and Pier Olivier
DeVieveros (Canadian). We’ve been working on some sample songs and come up with a cover we’re pretty happy
with and one we wrote ourselves. Things evolved and one thing is quite striking to me, I only met one of the band
members less than a week prior to recording. Pier has been working on the tracks remotely in Toronto and then
arrived at CERN and we had booked a set of practices. It’s weird that, in other bands, this would probably freak
people out, but it seems a bit natural in the physics world. You work with people remotely and get used to it.
We developed our songs by sending files back and forth and when we got together for our first combined practice
we already were on the same page. So after a few practice sessions together we wrote a bunch more parts to these
songs and we’re ready to hit the studio. Should be a fun time. We don’t have a huge amount of time but we’re
hoping to get our two tracks recorded, which might be a challenge.

I’ll let you know how it goes, but we will endeavour to make things AWESOME!

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New beginnings all over again

Friday, September 18th, 2009

Summer came and went like a slap in the face…and before you know it, weeks have gone by without posting
to the blog. Blimey. Sorry about that. There are several themes running through lives at CERN these days, or
at least many of those that intersect my own: the change of weather (it got pretty cold), the
preparation/excitement/fear for/of the early data and the ATLAS upgrade are commonly mentioned.

The ATLAS detector has had some issues with cooling, even though the weather outside hasn’t. Of course, the
cooling for the experiment ain’t quite the same as a couple of degrees in the ambient temperature. It is also not
a trivial matter and one that people are working hard to solve for our first collisions later this year. Speaking of
collisions, the excitement is building and everyone who is working on an analysis of any type is starting to make
very serious preparations for using the early data. This involves additional work as the nominal centre-of-mass
energy of the LHC will be a little lower at the startup than had been planned, and it will probably/hopefully change
during the long first run of the LHC. Analyses rely on this and need some tweaking to reevaluate sensitivities.
But it’s all good fun. The general consensus these days is that any collision data will be extremely welcome: there
are certainly some very experienced students who are crying out for even a handful of proton collision so that they
can write up their theses and move on in life. Good to hear from other bloggers though that the Tevatron is back
up and running.

The upgrade is in the pipeline as well and some of us are working on preparations/tests for new technologies
to improve the radiation hardness and maybe sensitivity of the inner detector. The upgrade test beams for the
new pixel technologies will be using Ingrid’s lovely EUDET telescope that I’m sure she could tell you lots more
about if you wanted! It *still* seems odd to be upgrading something that isn’t.

The weather in the geneva area takes quite a dip in early September in my humble experience. If I mention that
my fiancee and I took a trip to northern England to get some sunshine that might put it in context. I suppose it
makes me want to work more when the weather isn’t so great. Warm Geneva days can be splendid with frolicking
by the lake and wandering in the hills an easy way to fill the days. It brings into focus how different the mood is
when the change of weather is just so dramatic. Still I suppose it means that skiing can’t be that far away.
More to follow………

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