[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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Higgs Seminar liveblog

4 07 2012

Follow my liveblog here!





[blog post] It’s conference season again!

1 06 2012

Greetings from Florida! The summer conference season has just started, and on both sides of the Atlantic, in Florida and France, physicists are meeting to share the latest news from the LHC and the Tevatron. I’m at the Eleventh Conference on the Intersections of Particle and Nuclear Physics (CIPANP 2012), and with 70 parallel sessions, 10 plenary sessions, and 64 posters there’s a lot to explore here! While the Higgs boson is a hot topic, it’s not the main focus of the conference, topics include neutrino physics, cosmology, nuclear physics, dark matter and hadronic structure. Physicists are chatting over coffee, catching up on gossip and rumors, and trying to find the time to fit in the most interesting talks.

I delivered my talk yesterday (a whirlwind tour of Higgs bosons decaying to final states with tau leptons) so I can now relax and enjoy the rest of the conference. Given the diverse nature of CIPANP this is a great opportunity to find out about the other areas of physics. In the very low mass region there are extremely stringent tests of the Standard Model which keep getting better. It’s easy to forget that the most precise tests are not found at the high energy frontier, so hearing from colleagues who work with muons and neutrinos is vital.

Presenting my talk

Presenting my talk

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6 05 2012

Mark took over for me on shift. Here’s his livebog of the experience!

Occasional Musings of a Particle Physicist

10:30pm: Quiet at CERN. Lots of rain outside. Soon I will go out in the rain as the ATLAS control room is on the other side of the road. Hope my swipe card access still works from last year….
Red Bull Count: 1
Espresso Count:…

11pm: Take over from previous shifter, LHC has cryo problems. Wonder if I’ll even see beam in the next 8 hours. Get in touch with trigger on call expert to confirm she does want to be called when the beams are back even if it’s 4am.






11:15pm: Crisis averted. Discovered US->Swiss power adapter left in office with minimal laptop battery remaining, quick dash across the road and all is well again.
Red Bull Count: 1
Espresso Count: 1


11:30pm: When I arrived LHC expected cryo conditions at midnight, this has now changed to 3am 😦

12:10am: ATLAS shift leader thinks there’ll be no collisions during…

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[blog post] Shifting expectations

15 04 2012

It’s 2012. We have stable beams. We’re at 8TeV. We’re taking data and I’m sitting in the ATLAS Control Room again. Fans of my blog will remember my previous onshift posts and, yes, today I had an awesome breakfast of roasted duck (a special treat from a visiting professor).

So ATLAS Control Room, we meet again...

So ATLAS Control Room, we meet again...

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[Liveblog] Higgs Seminar

13 12 2011

The CERN Higgs seminar starts in 1 hour and my liveblog is up and running! Exciting times!

Read it here.