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Posts Tagged ‘operations’

Physics operations

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Yesterday I (virtually) attended the CMS “physics operations” meeting, the first meeting of this sort in the 7 TeV era. We’ll be having a few of these per week for the foreseeable future (but I probably won’t attend all of them). The goal of the meeting is to check in on how everyone is doing in the day-to-day, hum-drum work of getting our physics business done. This includes everything from checking the reconstruction of the basic objects (leptons, jets, etc.) in the detector through full analyses that lead to publishable measurements. Does everyone have the simulation samples that they need? Have we learned enough about the data that it seems useful to reprocess all it with our new knowledge applied? What sort of problems are they running into with accessing the data or using the distributed computing system? (I came to get the word on the latter, which falls in my purview.) This meeting should be useful in helping us get work done efficiently, especially given the crush of activity that is occurring in the enthusiasm to study and understand our early data, and to prepare our first results from 7 TeV collisions.

That being said, the concept of “physics operations” sort of turns my stomach. Poking around on the Web, I found a definition of “operations management,” which was “the maintenance, control, and improvement of organizational activities that are required to produce goods or services for consumers. Operations management has traditionally been associated with manufacturing activities but can also be applied to the service sector.” This suggests the idea of physics as a factory — there is an assembly line, you put some raw materials into it, you make sure that all the machines run smoothly, and out come publishable papers at the other end. Of course this isn’t how physics research actually works — throughout the process of making a measurement, we need to apply plenty of human judgment and creativity, at least if we want to advance the field in a real way.

But perhaps this is just the way things have to be these days — when you have hundreds of humans being creative at the same time, you want to make sure that they don’t all collide with each other, that they are getting the resources that they need, and that the systems and tools that we have provided don’t hamper anyone’s creativity. And perhaps this was a natural evolution: I have certainly been among the people who talk about “physics commissioning,” the work you need to do to get data analyses up and going, in analogy to getting a detector up and going. And once you’ve commissioned a detector, you operate it, of course.

In other news: I’m supposed to be going to CERN in a week for the semi-annual CMS software and computing week, but the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull (pronounced EY-ya-fyat-lah-YO-kut) volcano in Iceland and its impact on trans-Atlantic air traffic has me spooked. Apparently when the volcano last erupted, about two hundred years ago, it did so on and off for about two years. Will I make it over there? Will I be able to come home? Answers in my next post.

KB

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