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!