[blog post] Finding tomorrow’s scientists

4 09 2014

Last week I was at a family reunion where I had the chance to talk to one of my more distant relations, Calvin. At 10 years old he seems to know more about particle physics and cosmology than most adults I know. We spent a couple of hours talking about the LHC, the big bang, trying to solve the energy crisis, and even the role of women in science . It turns out that Calvin had wanted to speak with a real scientist for quite a while, so I agreed to have a chat next time I was in the area. To be honest when I first agreed I was rolling my eyes at the prospect. I’ve had so many parents tell me about their children who are “into science” only to find out that they merely watch Mythbusters, or enjoyed reading a book about dinosaurs. However when I spoke to Calvin I found he had huge concentration and insight for someone of his age, and that he was enthusiastically curious about physics to the point where I felt he would never tire of the subject. Each question would lead to another, in the meantime he’d wait patiently for the answer, giving the discussion his full attention. He seemed content with the idea that we don’t have answers to some of these questions yet, or that it can take decades for someone to understand just one of the answers properly. The road to being a scientist is a long one and you’ve got to really want it and work hard to get there, and Calvin has what it takes.

Real scientists don't merely observe, they don't merely interact, they create.  (Child at the Science Museum London, studying an optical exhibit.  Nevit Dilmen 2008)

Real scientists don’t merely observe, they don’t merely interact, they create. (Child at the Science Museum London, studying an optical exhibit. Nevit Dilmen 2008)

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[blog post] LHC Scientists face major setback

1 04 2014

The LHC is currently in shutdown in preparation for the next physics run in 2015. However the record breaking accelerator is danger is falling far behind schedule as the engineers struggle with technical difficulties 100m below ground level.

The LHC tunnels house the 27km long particle accelerator in carefully controlled conditions. When the beams circulate they must be kept colder than anywhere else in the solar system, and with a vacuum more empty the voids of outer space. Any disruption to the cryogenic cooling systems or the vacuum systems can place serious strain on the operations timetable, and engineers have found signs of severe damage.

Scientists patrol the LHC, inspecting the damaged areas.

Scientists patrol the LHC, inspecting the damaged areas.

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[blog post] Margaret Thatcher, politician, scientist

15 04 2013

Early last week Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister, pass away, aged 87. She was a charismatic figure who was known internationally for being a strong and decisive leader. She had close political ties with President Ronald Reagan, she opposed the communist policies in Eastern Europe, and she was skeptical of increasing integration of the UK with Western Europe. Her actions and legacy are entwined with the global political stage at the time. However, in the UK she was very divisive and at times controversial, and even to this day there is a mixture of high praise a bitter resentment about her policies. Much has been said about her legacy over the past few days, and I think that, regardless of one’s own views, one of the best things we can say about Thatcher is that she knew what her vision was, and she pursued it with a great deal of energy and enthusiasm.

Thatcher, the chemist (popsci)

Thatcher, the chemist (popsci)

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Tweeting the Higgs

23 01 2013

Back in July two seminars took place that discussed searches for the Higgs boson at the Tevatron and the LHC. After nearly 50 years of waiting an announcement of a \(5\sigma\) signal, enough to claim discovery, was made and all of a sudden the twitter world went crazy. New Scientist presented an analysis of the tweets by Domenico et al. relating to the Higgs in their Short Sharp Scient article Twitter reveals how Higgs gossip reached fever pitch. I don’t want to repeat what is written in the article, so please take a few minutes to read it and watch the video featured in the article.

The distribution of tweets around the July 2nd and July 4th announcements (note the log scale)

The distribution of tweets around the July 2nd and July 4th announcements (note the log scale)

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2013: The road ahead

1 01 2013

This time last year I wrote a blog post about what 2011 delivered and what to expect for 2012. It was obvious that we’d get some answers on the Higgs question, so it’s no surprise that we saw some 5 sigma bumps in there. As Rolf Heuer, Director General of CERN said it was a “vintage year” for physics, which I think means “very good”. Personally I think that the choice of word “vintage” is a bit anticlimactic. Surely a vintage anything is best enjoyed after several years have passed, if you have the money for it? It would have been nicer to see a word that reflected the current excitement of being a part of the discovery and seeing physics a living field, rather than comparing it to a bottle of dusty (though very tasty) wine at the back of a cellar somewhere. Oh well, maybe I’m reading too much into one word. Rolf’s article gives a very nice overview of 2012. In short, 2012 was brilliant and delivered as promised.

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[blog post] Understanding the Higgs search

15 08 2012

It’s been over a month since CERN hosted a seminar on the updated searches for the Higgs boson. Since then ATLAS and CMS and submitted papers showing what they found, and recently I got news that the ATLAS paper was accepted by Physics Letters B, a prestigious journal of good repute. For those keeping score, that means it took over five weeks to go from the announcement to publication, and believe it not, that’s actually quite fast.

Crowds watch the historic seminar from Melbourne, Australia (CERN)

Crowds watch the seminar from Melbourne, Australia (CERN)

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[blog post] Spinning out of control!

16 07 2012

We’ve all heard the big news from CERN by now (if not then you might want to catch up on the latest gossip!) Right now most of the focus at ATLAS and CMS is on measuring the properties of the new boson we’ve found. The numbers of events are small, so studies are very difficult. One of the most important properties that we need to study is the particle’s spin, and luckily we can say something about that right now!

A typical Higgs boson candidate in the "golden mode" (ATLAS Collaboration)

The big news: One of many Higgs boson candidates in the "golden mode" (ATLAS Collaboration)

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