Saturday, December 20, 2008

Scientists to Invade Washington in January

This week, our president-elect announced his pick for science advisor (John Holdren). There's a nice article in Physics Today about Dr. Holdren. And, the president-elect's weekly address is all about science:

This is my favorite part:

"Whether it’s the science to slow global warming; the technology to protect our troops and confront bioterror and weapons of mass destruction; the research to find life-saving cures; or the innovations to remake our industries and create twenty-first century jobs—today, more than ever before, science holds the key to our survival as a planet and our security and prosperity as a nation. It is time we once again put science at the top of our agenda and worked to restore America’s place as the world leader in science and technology.

Right now, in labs, classrooms and companies across America, our leading minds are hard at work chasing the next big idea, on the cusp of breakthroughs that could revolutionize our lives. But history tells us that they cannot do it alone. From landing on the moon, to sequencing the human genome, to inventing the Internet, America has been the first to cross that new frontier because we had leaders who paved the way: leaders like President Kennedy, who inspired us to push the boundaries of the known world and achieve the impossible; leaders who not only invested in our scientists, but who respected the integrity of the scientific process.

Because the truth is that promoting science isn’t just about providing resources—it’s about protecting free and open inquiry. It’s about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology. It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient—especially when it’s inconvenient. Because the highest purpose of science is the search for knowledge, truth and a greater understanding of the world around us. That will be my goal as President of the United States—and I could not have a better team to guide me in this work."

It makes me want to jump up and down saying "Yes, our president-elect gets it!".

He also appointed Harold Varmus and Eric Lander to his advisory council, and Jane Lubchenco to be the head of NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). So along with Steve Chu, there are going to be a lot of smart sciencey-types in D.C. come January 20th. I'm (cautiously) thrilled!

A bientôt!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Obama's Energy Secretary

A few news-worthy items have cropped up in the past couple days. The first is the official CERN press release confirming that the LHC will start up again in 2009 (phew!). I know a lot of people were relieved to hear that, because the rumors had been swirling. However, for some graduate students, it might be too late... I have heard of a few who can't wait. They are switching over to one of the experiments at Fermilab's Tevatron because their grad school clock is running out, and they need some actual data for their Ph.D. theses. It's rough though ... moving from X grad school to CERN and then to Fermilab (outside of Chicago) in the span of a few years takes its toll.

The second is the news reports naming President-Elect Obama's new Energy Secretary, current Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory director and Nobel laureate, Steven Chu. I think Energy Secretary is an amazingly difficult position right now, because not only do you have to deal with the major issue of oil and moving toward alternative fuels, you can't lose track of the Office of Science (the DOE Office of Science is the largest source of funding for basic scientific research in the U.S.). To me, this choice indicates a strong commitment to basic scientific research over the next four years... I hope!

It's also pretty exciting from a personal perspective, because merely 6 years ago I was sitting in Steve Chu's grad quantum mechanics class my first quarter at Stanford! (Actually, in December 2002 I was probably sweating it out over our last problem set and final exam...) So congratulations and good luck to him! He has a really tough job to do.

A bientôt!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Hard at work on repairs...

A cool photo of someone hard at work on the first replacement magnet for sector 3-4 (the damaged sector).

A bientôt!

Photos of LHC Damage

Finally, some photos of the damage to the LHC from the September 19th incident have been released. These are from a talk given by the CERN Director-General on Friday (agenda):

The first photo looks like a magnet that moved off of its mount (the red boxes) that secured it to the concrete floor. The second photo is of a region between two magnets that was crushed when the magnets moved after the helium was released. It's amazing to actually see a visual ... I have a lot of respect for the accelerator physicists and engineers who are working to not only fix the damaged components, but also to prevent this type of incident from occurring again.

I'd like to echo the sentiments of US/LHC Blogger Seth Zenz (who posted the link to Director Aymar's talk) ... thanks for the information and photos! Looking forward to the LHC being back online next year.

A bientôt!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Still Alive

I realize it's been a while since I posted last! I've been busy, working hard and taking advantage of my proximity to some amazing cities ... I visited Paris and Vienna over the past two weekends :) You can be jealous now, because the crepes and strudel, respectively, were fantastic!

We got some news on the LHC over the past few days -- well, news from the press, not CERN, which I still think is a little backwards. According to various news sites (e.g., the Associated Press), the LHC won't come back online until June at the earliest. They also report that the repairs will cost $21 million, no small chunk of change. As winter is arriving, the days are getting shorter, and the date of first collisions gets farther away, it's a challenge to stay positive about our elusive goal: data!

However, we find small morsels of inspiration where we can. Today it's a photo from the LIFE Magazine archives. Taken in 1955, the photo is of Albert Einstein's messy desk at Princeton:

It definitely makes me feel better about my own messy desk :)

A bientôt!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Don't forget to Vote!!

Go out and vote today! No excuses! All the cool kids are doing it ;) You can find out your polling place with the Google Voter Info Site. And bring a friend or co-worker along with you.

We'll be watching from here ... after work I'm heading to a sold-out all-night election party in Geneva. It seems like the whole world is watching the U.S. today, so make us proud!

A bientôt!

Monday, October 27, 2008


As I mentioned in a previous post, my thesis was on an experiment called BaBar... as things go in particle physics, just because you're "done" with your previous job/experiment doesn't mean all of the loose ends are completely wrapped up. My loose end was a 15-page journal article on my thesis research, and I'm now happy to say that it was accepted to a journal called Physical Review D and will be published shortly:

Dear Dr. Majewski:

The manuscript "Measurements of B(B0 → Λc+ p) and B(B- → Λc+ p π-) and studies of Λc+π- resonances" by Aubert, B. et al. is being accepted for publication in Physical Review D...


Urs M. Heller
Associate Editor
Physical Review D

It's a little sad, because it marks the formal end of my time on BaBar, but it feels pretty good to have the paper finished and accepted. (Plus, even a year later it's still pretty cool to be addressed as "Dr. Majewski"...) Time to celebrate!

A bientôt!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Sticky tape

The observant among you might notice that my monitor counter is gone. That's because it's here! 50 days and a 70 euro tax later..... (grumble, grumble).

However, a couple people emailed/pointed out this Nature article about how peeling sticky tape generates x-rays. Although it's not really related to the LHC, it's pretty cool, and they have a video! Here's the short version:

My attempt to embed the long version failed, so here's the link:

The long version is a lot better!

A bientôt!

Friday, October 17, 2008

LHC Incident Report Released

The report from the September 19th incident has been released by CERN (see my previous post on the LHC Delay). Here are links to the press release and to the full technical report. In case you're too lazy to click ;) I'll give you a brief version by quoting the "good" parts:

On 19 September 2008, during powering tests of the main dipole circuit in Sector 3-4 of the LHC, a fault occurred in the electrical bus connection in the region between a dipole and a quadrupole, resulting in mechanical damage and release of helium from the magnet cold mass into the tunnel. Proper safety procedures were in force, the safety systems performed as expected, and no-one was put at risk....

During the ramping-up of current in the main dipole circuit at the nominal rate of 10 A/s, a resistive zone developed leading in less than one second to a resistive voltage of 1 V at 9 kA. The power supply, unable to maintain the current ramp, tripped off and the energy discharge switch opened, inserting dump resistors into the circuit to produce a fast current decrease.... Within one second, an electrical arc developed, puncturing the helium enclosure and leading to a release of helium into the insulation vacuum of the cryostat.... The spring-loaded relief discs on the vacuum enclosure opened when the pressure exceeded atmospheric, thus releasing helium into the tunnel...

At the bottom of the press release, they define the term cold mass:

The magnets, equipped with their helium vessel and end covers, constitute the "cold masses".... The weight of the cold mass is transmitted to the vacuum enclosure via cold support posts and is further transmitted to the tunnel floor by adjustable support jacks, anchored in the concrete.

Here is an illustration of the electrical connection between the two magnets where the resistance developed:

The press release goes on to itemize the damage, which I've arranged into a list:

  • "contamination by soot-like dust which propagated over some distance in the beam pipes"

  • "damage to the multilayer insulation blankets of the cryostats" (the magnet "sleeves")

  • "the cryostats housing [the] quadrupoles broke their anchors in the concrete floor of the tunnel and were moved away from their original positions"

  • "the electric and fluid connections pull[ed] the dipole cold masses in the subsector from the cold internal supports inside their undisplaced cryostats"

  • "the displacement of the quadrupoles cryostats damaged "jumper" connections to the cryogenic distribution line, but without rupturing its insulation vacuum"

The bottom line is that "at most 5 quadrupoles and 24 dipoles" [magnets] need to be fixed, and they need to be brought out of the tunnel and up to the surface for that to happen. They also say that more magnets might need to be cleaned (from that "soot-like dust") and get new "multilayer insulation" (new "sleeves"); these might need to come up to the surface, or they are considering trying to clean the magnets in place in the tunnel. The good news is that "Spare magnets and spare components appear to be available in adequate types and sufficient quantities to allow replacement of the damaged ones..." So let's be optimistic that everything will be fixed in time to start up again next spring!

A bientôt!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Candidates talk about Women in Science

So, since I'm a chick, and a physicist, the whole "women in science" issue is important to me. Basically, I think we need more of them :) And recently I have been consumed by election fever (watching the debates, filling out my foreign absentee ballot), as I'm sure many of you have been. So I thought it was particularly interesting that over the summer, the Association for Women in Science asked each candidate a bunch of questions about women in science ... and, this week the candidates responded (which I thought was amazing, frankly). Here's an excerpt from the full questions and responses:

In a September 2006 report, Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering, the National Academies stated that, in order to maintain scientific and engineering leadership amid increasing economic and educational globalization, the United States must aggressively pursue the innovative capacity of all people, regardless of sex. Although women make up almost half of the U.S. workforce, they continue to be underrepresented in STEM professions, particularly in the higher academic faculty ranks and leadership positions. As President of the United States, how do you plan to address the need for more women in STEM?

Sen. Barack Obama:

Joe Biden and I agree with the conclusion of the National Academies’ Bias and Barriers report that the United States must aggressively pursue the innovative capacity of all people. In a globalized world, our prosperity and national security depend on our ability to lead the world in innovation. Other nations are now challenging that leadership, and in responding we must call upon talent and creativity of all of our people. We will need to significantly increase our STEM workforce, and to do that we will need to engage not just women and minorities but also persons with disabilities, English language learners, and students from low income families.

Women are significantly underrepresented in the STEM workforce, and especially in the leadership positions in research and academia. We need women in leadership roles both for their contribution and for the message of encouragement and opportunity that their presence sends to our daughters. We support a range of proactive measures that will open opportunities in science to women, such as requiring minority and female representation on government panels developing innovation and competitiveness strategies, and establishing mentoring programs to support women and underrepresented groups in STEM education programs ­- two measures that I helped pass as part of the America COMPETES Act. We also support improved educational opportunities for all students, increased responsibilities and accountability for those receiving federal research funding, equitable enforcement of existing laws such as Title IX, continuation and strengthening of programs aimed at broader engagement in the STEM disciplines, full funding for the America COMPETES Act, and increased funding for the National Institutes of Health.

Sen. John McCain:

I am committed to ensuring a diverse workforce. Discrimination on the basis of sex is abhorrent, and my administration will vigorously enforce federal anti­-discrimination laws. All people should have the opportunity to reach their potential based on merit and hard work.

It is also important that we strengthen our public education system’s focus on math, science, and engineering to spark children’s interest in those important fields. That is why I have proposed a dramatic overhaul of Title II of No Child Left Behind to provide funding for incentive bonuses for teachers who choose to teach those subjects. I also support providing funding for low­-income students to hire tutors and for local districts to expand online educational opportunities—initiatives that will ensure that learning continues outside of the classroom.

Happy voting, everyone! (I'm mailing in my ballot tomorrow.)

A bientôt!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

All Quiet

It's been a while since I've posted last, and I guess that's mostly because things have quieted down quite a bit. Physics is kind of same-o, same-o. I've finally settled into a bit of a routine, getting used to not having a car (and successfully getting a monthly bus pass), appropriately caffeinating myself throughout the day (too many cups of strong European coffee makes you feel all jittery and unstable...), and figuring out when on earth to get groceries. Actually, I'm still not used to that part yet ... grocery stores here are only open until 7:30pm (for the close one) or 9pm (for the farther one) during the week, all day on Saturday, and they are mostly closed on Sunday. None of this 24-hour, get it whenever you want it culture. I did finally find a small store that's open on Sunday for those emergency purchases. I guess Sunday is really supposed to be a chill day, so this past one we tried to embrace that by cramming a gaggle of physicists into our living room for brunch... almost 3 loaves of brioche later, we successfully stuffed ourselves with "french toast", mimosas, and good conversation. Even the french toast was a challenge, because we had to trek all the way to Geneva to the American Market for brown sugar (and splurged on some authentic Mrs. Butterworth).

My biggest outstanding complaint is that my own personal 2-year-old computer monitor that I shipped to myself on September 4th still hasn't arrived. Apparently it's been in French Customs since September 10th! From various google searches, this sort of delay is completely normal, and they'll probably eventually send me a letter asking for so many € to claim it. So I thought I'd start a little counter on the left to keep track of how long it's been since I mailed it... at this point, it's so ridiculous it's humorous.

A bientôt!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

New digs

Yesterday was moving day, so after some heavy lifting I am finally moved in to my new apartment. It's a fully-furnished 2-bedroom in France, about a block from a bus stop so I will continue to take the bus to and from work. (I also have a CERN bike that I can use, but so far laziness has won in the mornings...) It's a lovely fall day today, and the Cubs are in the playoffs, so life is good.

It's been pretty quiet here at CERN. The lawsuit against the LHC was thrown out of court, previously scheduled meetings are continuing (even though they don't seem quite as urgent without beams), and it seems like everyone has settled back into their routines.

On the funding front, Congress has passed a continuing resolution until March of 2009, which means that the funding levels for science stay at the same level as FY08 (FY=fiscal year, which starts on October 1 ... we're now in FY09). These continuing resolutions are always tough because we don't even get a 3% boost to compensate for inflation. But the funding agencies and national labs weren't surprised; this is an election year, after all, so no one expected a new budget until we have a new president. In my opinion, this yearly budget thing seems pretty antiquated, and doesn't really work for science because it doesn't provide the funding continuity needed for long-term projects. Of course, I don't mean to sound ungrateful for the support we get from Congress, but it feels like they never pass the budget by October 1 anyway.... check out this plot from the Dept of Energy Office of Science website of how "on time" Congress has been with the budget over the past 30 years (green is early, red is late):

The past 8 years are kind of appalling if you ask me. Can you imagine paying your rent or your mortgage 150 days late?

A bientôt!

P.S. If you find this science funding/policy stuff interesting, you can subscribe to the American Institute of Physics FYI updates.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Bye Bye WaMu

Now I'm really wishing that we had LHC collisions this week to distract ourselves with... unfortunately, all eyes are on the U.S. economy. The latest shoe to drop is Washington Mutual, which just happens to be my bank! I'd been meaning to uh ... switch banks anyway ... right? Looks like JP Morgan Chase has us covered, for the time being at least. It's pretty surreal to be abroad during such a volatile time. Well, I hope Stephen Colbert suspending his show gives the economy the boost it needs. In case you need a laugh:

A bientôt!

P.S. On a personal note, Aunt Helen, I hope your surgery goes smoothly today. My thoughts are with you.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

LHC Delay

So, by now, I'm sure you've read about the LHC delay until April 2009 (if not, read the official press release, and then come back). Don't worry, we have plenty to work on until then! I was bummed at first, but I'm sure this will make first collisions even sweeter!

While they're trying to make the tunnel safe and warm up the magnet enough for the engineers to get in there and really assess the damage, I thought I would remind you all what we're dealing with:

These magnets are HUGE! And really complicated. And really cold (because they have to be superconducting...). I found a nice explanation:
To harness the powerful beams of protons and steer them around the ring, scientists have to create strong magnetic fields. This requires superconducting electromagnets, whose wire coils can carry large electric currents with virtually no resistance. For the wire to become superconducting, the magnets must be kept very cold—in this case at a temperature of -271 degrees Celsius, close to absolute zero.
And the meaningful part for me is that although other accelerators (like the Tevatron at Fermilab) have used superconducting magnets before, the LHC magnets are really pushing the current limits of technology. Plus, each magnet stores a lot of energy. What happened last Friday was a quench. That means that the magnet all of a sudden was no longer superconducting, so it released a lot of energy.
When a quench begins, the beams are shut down and power to the affected magnet is immediately cut. Then heaters fire up, quickly raising the temperature of the whole 14.3-meter-long, 35-ton magnet and dissipating the energy.
Usually, this procedure should mitigate the damage. But something went wrong this time (according to the press release, possibly a bad electrical connection), and caused a lot of cold Helium gas to fill the tunnel. No one was hurt, because no one is allowed in the tunnels when the machine is running (there are lots of strict safety procedures), but any sort of damage to the accelerator pieces in that sector needs to be fixed before we can start running again.

On a positive note, one journalist (Lewis Page, of the Register) jokes that the last time physicists at CERN had some downtime, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web :)

A bientôt!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

One week at CERN

I can hardly believe I've been here only one week (well, 8 days really). My days have been completely packed with work and paperwork. Plus, the wrench thrown in it all was that the apartment in Meyrin that I had arranged mysteriously fell through. The reason the lady gave me was:

I had to return a favor that I was given some time ago. So is life. Sorry.

So last Friday I started scrambling for a new apartment... these things go fast, so I went to see a couple apartments on Saturday during the day, and then Saturday night I called one of the landlords to tell him I wanted that apartment. We signed the lease and put down the security deposit yesterday. It's been a hectic few days! But I am comforted by the fact that I will have a place to live on October 1st and will no longer have to sleep on my very nice friend's futon (thanks Bryan!). The apartment is really cute too, fully-furnished (which is key for someone without any furniture) with a washing machine and dishwasher, and close to a bus stop in France. Although living in France is a bit quieter and more remote than Switzerland, I did not want spend 6 weeks looking for a non-existent Swiss apartment! It's super difficult to find something on the Swiss side, especially now since it seems like everyone wants to be here for the excitement.

I also got a sim card today... if, hypothetically, one were to unlock an iPhone (after perfectly legally cancelling a contract with AT&T), one should be able to put in a prepaid sim card from a European carrier and it should work... for the curious, I will let you know how this hypothetical situation pans out ;)

And, amidst dealing with foreign bureaucracy and cell phones, I'm actually trying to get some work done! I have spent my working hours battling ATLAS software and python (the programming language, not the snake), but that's kind of dull. So to inject some physics (and since I've been asked by almost everyone I know) I'll leave you with another very nice explanation of why mini black holes won't destroy the earth. The American Institute of Physics puts out a very nice News Update that you can subscribe to. For all of you physics fanboys, the articles are pretty accessible and cover more than just particle physics.

This particular article, called "Mini Black Holes No Danger", is dated September 9th, but it kind of got lost in all of the sensational "first beam" coverage. Here's an excerpt:

When the protons collide with each other inside the machine, one thing that scientists are certain won’t happen is the production of miniature black holes that gobble up nearby matter. A new study shows that the continuing existence of old stars in the sky is evidence that small black holes can’t swallow the Earth...

The article goes on to explain why, in a very clear and pedagogical way.

A bientôt!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

At Point 1

I'm currently at Point 1, in the buildings above the ATLAS detector.
I'm here for the video link to Brookhaven, which will happen in ~1/2
hour, so we're drinking coffee in the mean time. We're in the "Media
Room," one floor up from the ATLAS control room. We peeked into the
control room before coming up, and it was very crowded with ATLAS
physicists, including some friendly faces from my previous experiment,
BaBar. Today especially it seems like the world is a very small place,
with all of the attention focused here, at CERN.

Here's a photo of the ATLAS control room when I was there:

The video link with Brookhaven went well ... hard to imagine that they were just waking up when I'd been glued to the webcast for 7 hours already ;) Here are photos from the Brookhaven media day, taken by Peter Steinberg:

If you look closely you can see me on one of the screens!

A bientôt!

Protons in the LHC

Here is a photo that I took with my phone of a TV in Building 40, at CERN:

I also wanted to capture the Google homepage today:

CCW direction complete!

Wow, the LHC control room is packed. I'm still following the
webcast ... And now the counterclockwise beam, Beam 2, has made it
through the entire ring! Now both beams have completely circulated
through the entire 27-kilometer ring. This is a great achievement.
Congrats to all of the LHC engineers and accelerator physicists!

Around 4:30pm CERN time I'll be in the ATLAS control room to connect to
Brookhaven and celebrate with them for their media day. I'm thrilled
we have something to celebrate!

A bientôt!

(P.S. sorry about the messiness... I'm posting from my iPhone in the
CERN auditorium)

Beam 2 to Point 1!

Beam 2 Update

Beam 2 to Point 2! Almost all the way around the other direction... I hope we get to ATLAS again from the other way :)

LHC Beam 2

It seems like the LHC is ready to try out Beam 2. Earlier this morning, we saw Beam 1, which goes in a clockwise direction. Beam 2 will go in a counterclockwise direction.

12:30pm: The first step is to inject the second proton beam, also at an energy of 450 GeV, into the LHC at Point 8 to LHCb.

12:32pm: A cryogenics problem in Sector 81 has delayed the injection of Beam 2. This means that there is a problem with the cooling of these large superconducting magnets. We might be done for today, unless they fix it quickly.

12:34pm: Cameras focus on the cryogenics workstation, with several people staring worriedly at the screens. I feel bad for those guys! Can you imagine cameras focused on you as you're trying to debug a problem? Lots of pressure on them right now.

12:35pm: I'm heading to lunch! I'll check back later to see if the cryogenics situation has improved.

2:35pm: Sorry for the break ... Lunch and then getting a bus card. As I walk into the CERN auditorium, the beam is at Point 5 and they are giving CMS a few events.

2:40pm: Beam 2 to Point 3! The counterclockwise beam has made it through CMS and around 2 more sectors to Point 3.

First beam seen by ATLAS

I also wanted to share the first beam events seen by ATLAS:

(It's really just the beam smashing into the collimator just before the detector.)

The circular views are cross-sections of the ATLAS detector (so the beam is coming into/out of the page). Green indicates splashes of energy in the calorimeter (calorimeter = energy detector; think high school chemistry class with a styrofoam cup). In the second picture, the red dots are where muons crossed the muon detectors ("hits").

And, for a laugh:

A bientôt!

LHC Ready for Beam 1

I'm sitting in a conference room in Building 40 at CERN, watching the live webcast.

Here's the news so far:

Beam 1 will enter at Point 2 and start out going clockwise. They will do a few shorter tests, stopping the beam with collimators at various points and running tests before sending it all the way around. The picture shows the ring layout for reference.

9:26am: They are taking a short break to get ready. The conference room has filled up now, and we are enjoying the commentary. There's definitely a buzz, even as we laugh at some of the sillier comments...

9:34am: Lyn Evans gives the ok to inject from Point 2 to Point 3... this proton beam will be at 450 GeV. And there's the flash of the beam! It's about to be injected.

9:38am: They have removed the block at Point 2 and are about to send the beam through Sector 23. Success! The beam has gone 3 kilometers through the sector.

9:43am: The next step is to send the beam through 2 more Sectors to Point 5, where it will be stopped by a collimator just before CMS.

9:45am: We should be able to see the beam pass Point 4 on its way to Point 5... false alarm on the first cycle ... and now they see it pass Point 4. At this point the beam has gone 1o kilometers.

9:47am: Everyone chuckles as the commentator is corrected ... CMS is the 2nd-biggest detector, not the biggest ;)

9:55am: The next step is for the beam to pass through CMS to the beam dump just past Point 6. We're watching the screen showing just before the beam dump, waiting to see the beam make it through Sector 56. Ok, it made it to Point 6. The beam dump is the small straight section sticking out past Point 6 on the picture.

10:00am: Lyn Evans estimates that they'll take the beam the rest of the way around within the hour.

10:02am: They've dumped the beam now.

10:06am: The beam has been taken to Point 7. The next step is through Sector 78 to Point 8, which is where the LHCb experiment is located.

10:12am: The coverage is not so great at the moment ... we saw them clapping, but the commentators are sort of clueless right now ... clarification now... The beam made it to Point 8. There were some problems with the cryogenics in Sector 78 yesterday, so this was a big deal.

10:18am: The next step is through Sector 81. The beam made it to Point 1! It's just before ATLAS.

10:23am: The final leg is through ATLAS and Sector 12, at which point the beam will have traversed the entire ring. We're looking for 2 spots on the screen...

10:25am: There it is! The beam has gone all the way around ... applause on screen and in the conference room here. They are attempting a full turn (straight through) now.

They've declared success and people are dispersing now.

A bientôt!

Monday, September 8, 2008


Bye! I'm off. My plane leaves shortly, so this has to be quick. The LHC is all over the news (MSNBC). It's great to see that everyone is as excited as I am!

A quick plug ... there will be a show on the History channel tomorrow night at 8pm Eastern called The Next Big Bang. Here's the description:

"After 40 years of planning and construction, the biggest science experiment in history is ready to be tested. The "Large Hadron Collider" is an experiment created by the greatest minds in physics. It cost $10 billion and its resulting data has the potential to explain why we and the Universe exist. Their idea is to smash protons towards one another at the speed of light, trying to mimic what happened in the milliseconds after The Big Bang. Viewers will go on an amazing journey involving the struggles to plan and build the LHC, how it was constructed and what are its mechanics. Explore the future of what's possible through the geniuses of today."

And finally, the first single beam test will occur this Wednesday at CERN (between 9 and 10 am European time). Take note that this doesn't mean the protons are colliding, it's just the first time a single proton beam will go all the way around the ring. Fermilab's having a pajama party to celebrate, and Brookhaven is having a media day. There will also be a live webcast from CERN. Enjoy the festivities!

My next post will be from CERN!!

A bientôt!

P.S. No time for Twitter yet, sorry guys... I'll definitely up the blogging frequency though.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Quick update

Today is my last day at the lab before leaving for CERN, so of course there are still many things to do. But I thought I'd share a small morsel to tide you over ... I was interviewed by a reporter from Scientific American, and the article was published online yesterday! You can find it here:

How U.S. Researchers Are Making the Switch to the Large Hadron Collider

I'll look into starting a Twitter account this weekend... I'm sure I'll have to get used to updating my status all of the time, but I've been wanting to try it out. Thanks for the suggestion :)

A bientôt!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Kind of like rolling downhill

I'm leaving in less than a week! So many things have happened in the past week that I can barely describe them all. But here's what's been going on with me, in no particular order:

  1. The U.S. banking system is not set up for international transactions. At least not for the everyday consumer. International wire transfers can only be initiated from the U.S., in person, at a branch, which doesn't really help if you are elsewhere. And moving any sort of large sum of money, even for perfectly legitimate expenses like a 2-month security deposit on an apartment, is very difficult to do quickly unless you are content to carry cash.
  2. The good old USPS is the cheapest way to mail your stuff abroad, although they don't have any sort of "ground" (=boat) shipping. There is a neat trick for books: m-bags are the equivalent of domestic media mail for shipping copyrighted material internationally to a single address (see photo).
  3. My teeth are pretty sensitive and take a while to heal. I finally got around to testing out my fancy postdoc dental plan this summer (in grad school we had no real dental plan) because I wasn't sure about the European dental system... anyway, several fillings later, my teeth are finally back to normal. Now to kick that Diet Coke habit...
  4. Finding an apartment abroad while you're still here is tough. But I'm happy to report that it can be done, especially if you have friends over there to go take a look at it for you... I will be sharing an apartment in Switzerland with a very nice grad student from Stony Brook who also happens to be heading to CERN for the year. Assuming the security deposit part goes ok (see #1), we'll move in mid-October. I'll post pics later!
  5. Moving is hard, and furniture is heavy. I think we tend to block out how stressful and tough it really is because we're so relieved when it's over. Also, storage units are small. Consequently, the VVA on Long Island are picking up a very large donation today, and some local grad students are taking a bunch of furniture tomorrow afternoon. It's a bit traumatic for me to get rid of so much stuff, especially the huge bookshelf that I built myself when I first started grad school and the office chair that I sat in to write much of my Ph.D. thesis, but it's easier to let go knowing that someone will put it to good use.
Ok, that's all for now ... if this post seems haphazard, that's great, because that describes my past week perfectly. Speeding toward the finish line now ... 6 days until I leave for CERN.

A bientôt!

P.S. In case you haven't seen the LHC rap... the YouTube video has really caught on! (As of this post, over 700,000 views!) The "rapper" is Katie McAlpine, who is a journalist and works for ATLAS. It's quite entertaining (and accurate):

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

It's starting to sink in now

I just got a phone call from the French consulate in New York saying that my visa has been approved! In order to spend a year at CERN, you need a French and a Swiss visa. I got my Swiss visa pretty painlessly, but it's a long process for the French visa ...

First you need an invitation letter from CERN where they "invite" you to come to work there (for a year, in my case). I requested it at the beginning of June. CERN sent that letter to the French, who then forwarded it to their consulate in New York. The consulate then sent me a letter in mid-July (6 weeks later!) asking me to come to Manhattan to apply for the visa in person. Luckily, I had already made an appointment at the consulate and showed up on July 21st to submit my application. That was an experience in itself. They are very strict -- you can only show up for your appointment time, and if you are late or don't have an appointment, forget about it. The French consulate visa section is in a swanky neighborhood on the upper East side near Central Park, and as I stood in line to go in I realized that I was surrounded by college-age girls wanting to study abroad for fall semester. The passerby were quite amusing, because they scrutinized the line curiously, wondering why we were lined up at noon on 74th street in 90-degree weather... I half-expected them to jump in line too! They looked disappointed as they read the sign on the building and saw that we weren't getting concert tickets -- just a visa to live in France.

Once I got in the building I waited for ~45 minutes to see the cashier and be fingerprinted. The nice thing about other countries is that a scientist visa is usally free! Then I waited another 90 minutes to be called up to a window, where they ask you such questions as "Do you know any French?". I nervously replied "un peu, but I am learning" and they said they would call me in 2-3 weeks. Over a month later, I finally received my reply! I still need to go back to the consulate so they can physically stick the visa in my passport, but this definitely makes it seem like I'm on the home stretch. 2 weeks to go!

A bientôt!

Monday, August 18, 2008

On vacation this week!

♪ California Love ♫ (that's a reference to the 2Pac song) I'm in California this week on vacation and to see my grad-school friends Ann and Tommer get married next weekend. I went to graduate school at Stanford University, where I spent five lovely years working very hard and being spoiled by the daily 70-degree weather and sunshine. My Ph.D. thesis was on the BaBar experiment at SLAC (the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center). SLAC has a 2-kilometer long accelerator; at the end of it we smashed electrons and anti-electrons (called positrons) together for the BaBar experiment (yes, BaBar like the elephant!). The electrons had an energy of 9 billion electron volts, and the positrons had an energy of 3 billion electron volts. This may seem like a lot of energy, but it's small potatoes compared to the Large Hadron Collider, which is all about colliding protons at 14 trillion electron volts. There's a big difference between smashing point particles like electrons together versus smashing protons together. Protons are a lot messier, since each one has 3 quarks and and even the "glue" holding them together gets involved. The LHC is also a lot bigger -- in my last entry I mentioned that the accelerator physicists injected a proton beam into one section of the LHC. Well, for that small test the beam traveled 3 kilometers -- longer than the entire length of the SLAC accelerator! That's enough physics for the moment... this week I get a reprieve from thinking too hard. The plan today is to go to the beach

A bientôt!

Monday, August 11, 2008

29 Days and Counting...

You might think I'd be counting down to the date the first proton beams will circulate through the Large Hadron Collider (expected September 10th), or perhaps I should be counting down to the first proton-proton collisions (expected sometime after September 10th...). Bringing up the LHC will be a gradual process, since it's an amazingly complicated machine, and consequently there will be many exciting firsts over the next few months. But I'm counting down to a personal milestone on September 8th -- the date I get on an airplane and move to CERN for a year.

For those of you who don't know, CERN is located near Geneva, Switzerland and is very close to the French border. I'm super excited about moving there and getting to be at the center of the action for the LHC and the ATLAS experiment. But, I'm a bit nervous too. For a girl from the Midwest (go Cubs!), moving to Europe is a big deal. I have a very long to-do list for my move, and it seems like every time I cross something off I add two more items in its place. There are a ton of decisions to make (do I cancel my iPhone plan? should I sell my car? where should I have my November absentee ballot mailed? how many pairs of shoes do I really need to bring?). I hunted around and collected some photos for inspiration (see left) that I stuck at the top of my ever-growing to-do list ... it's a nice way to keep me focused on the goal when it's so easy to be paralyzed by the details.

In the wake of the Olympic opening ceremonies, the LHC opening ceremonies are just beginning (the first protons were injected today). Since watching physicists in front of their computer screens isn't quite as exciting as the men's 4x100 freestyle relay, the TV coverage at CERN will be limited ;) But I hope that over the next year this blog will be a nice informal way for those of you in the states to keep in touch with what's going on at the LHC and ATLAS.

A bientôt!