The longest shift

The clock just turned 2:00 a.m., again, on LHC Page One – the machine’s online status viewer – and I’m pondering just how I ended up on the longest shift of the year. I normally love this evening, snuggling under a warm comforter for that extra hour of late-autumn sleep. But, this year, on the very hour we ‘fall back’, I am cuddling with the controls of ATLAS’s 46 meter long muon spectrometer, a bar of chocolate and an extra cup of coffee. So be it.

Blog | 1st November 2011

Dispatch from the dispatch: Musings from the Tevatron’s final run

The first time I drove to Fermilab as a grad student, I got kind of lost. However, once I remembered my adviser’s words of advice, it was suddenly easy to find the strangely shaped Wilson Hall, a.k.a. “the highrise sticking out of the Prairies”. During my PhD years with the CDF Collaboration, I went there many a time – to attend meetings, to take shifts. The Chicago area summers were harsh, and so were the winters. On early morning shifts over the Christmas week, I realized that all too well. CDF had over five hundred collaborators at that time and this was my first introduction to a big experiment. Despite its size, everyone still seemed to know each other and it was one big happy family.

Blog | 12th October 2011

The Tevatron: Goodnight but not goodbye

The Tevatron collider, the scientific predecessor of the LHC, was shut down last Friday after 26 years of operations. Situated at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) outside of Chicago, Illinois, the Tevatron collided protons with antiprotons at a center-of-mass energy just shy of 2 TeV. While it still held the title of the world’s highest energy colliding beams, it was the intellectual home of hundreds of scientists and students working as part of the CDF and D0 collaborations.

Blog | 4th October 2011

“La Nuit des Chercheurs” (Researchers’ Night)

Evening, Friday September 23rd. I came from Saclay (near Paris) to participate in the ‘Researchers’ Night’ event taking place across CERN as part of the European Researchers’ Night initiative. Students aged 13 to 18 were on their way from all around the local area to learn about what on earth it is we do at the mysterious “Point 1” – ATLAS’ home on the LHC ring. Three different groups of 10 or so students were to stay with the ATLAS team in the experiment’s control room from 6:00 p.m. until midnight, helping shifters to take data and monitor the experiment…

Blog | 29th September 2011

ATLAS never sleeps

Working in an international laboratory like CERN is incredibly exciting, and I’m not just talking about Higgs hunting. People in the outside world are endlessly curious about what happens on the sprawling two-kilometre-long site, and I get asked all kinds of questions, ranging from the funny to the profound.

Blog | 22nd September 2011

Re-hashing reconstruction

Now that the big summer conferences are under our belts, we’re busy reprocessing the data ATLAS has taken so far in 2011. The raw data we collect at ATLAS – basically millions of electrical signal values from the different bits of the detector – has to be treated (‘reconstructed’) to turn it into meaningful physics data that can be analyzed for signs of new physics.

Blog | 11th September 2011

Ars Atlastronica

So I’m back from the Ars Electronica 2011 festival in Linz, Austria. This year the guest of honor was CERN, to kickstart a cultural partnership which will endure over the next three years. The event was amazing, and the organization spotless. As Claudia mentioned in a previous post, CERN was well represented visually at the festival, mainly via a strong display of ATLAS multimedia throughout the many exhibit halls and events.

Blog | 7th September 2011

Science and art collide at Ars Electronica

Located in Linz, Austria, Ars Electronica is an exhibition centre and creative lab which “has been investigating the consequences of the Digital Revolution” since the late 1970’s. Ars Electronica holds a yearly festival that attracts thousands of people from Austria, Germany and the rest of the world. This year, the theme of the festival, which is happening in collaboration with CERN, is ‘Origin – how it all begins’.

Blog | 4th September 2011

Philosophising physics

Last Monday (August 22), within a tight 35-minute allocation, ATLAS’ Henri Bachacou presented the entirety of the results from ‘Beyond the Standard Model’ searches for BOTH the ATLAS and CMS experiments, to the Lepton Photon conference in Mumbai, India. This included results of studies on Supersymmetry, strong gravity, heavy resonances and long-lived particles, and was a staggering amount of information to convey in an extremely limited amount of time. Henri did a great job, firing through slides, and guiding the audience through the most up-to-date results from the wide range of exotic topics. He did have one thing on his side, however… from each search, from each physics topic and from each experiment, the results came back the same: Has the LHC seen anything beyond the standard model yet? Nope.

Blog | 3rd September 2011

Higgs results from Lepton Photon

The Lepton Photon 2011 conference began on Monday in Mumbai, India. Over 400 physicists from all over the world (including me!) gathered to hear the latest results. One result in particular -- news on the search for the Higgs boson -- was foremost in people's minds, and rather than prolong the suspense further, the talks on the Higgs were scheduled right after the welcoming speeches.

Blog | 26th August 2011

Top down: Reflections on a long and sleepless analysis journey

For the last months (which feel like years…) I’ve been working, within a small group of people, on the precision measurement of the top quark pair production cross section, and if you think that sounds complicated – the German word is “Top-Quark-Paarproduktionswechselwirkungsquerschnitt”.

Blog | 21st August 2011

Frantic for femtobarns...

In particle physics, we describe the number of interesting particle collisions that we have in our data in terms of the "integrated luminosity", which is measured in units called inverse femtobarns. In the whole of 2010, the LHC delivered about 0.04 inverse femtobarns (about 3 million million collisions). Nowadays, it can deliver twice that in a single day!

Blog | 19th August 2011

A look back at the EPS

I happened to run into Andrey Korytov after his eagerly awaited CMS Higgs talk. No, CMS had not yet seen the Higgs, and ATLAS could breathe a sigh of relief.

Blog | 30th July 2011

A view inside the ATLAS Higgs combination

Well it's been a few days since the Higgs presentations at EPS, and I'm just recovering from the lack of sleep. It's ironic that I have a newborn daughter, and my sleep deprivation is due to work.

Blog | 28th July 2011

Arrival at EPS

When I was invited to give a talk on behalf of ATLAS at this summer’s European Physical Society High Energy Physics conference (EPS), I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Most conferences I have been to are relatively intimate affairs where you have long discussions after every talk and then everybody trots down to the pub together to discuss the day’s results. EPS, though, is one of the largest particle physics conferences in the world. Or at least I reckon it is, having eyeballed the number of participants registered on the website, hailing from all sorts of fields ranging from astrophysics to ultra relativistic ions to our very own LHC proton-proton collider physics.

Blog | 28th July 2011


Beneath our feet on this warm November night, we have realized the ancient dream of turning lead into gold.

Blog | 7th November 2010

The inverse picobarn threshold has been crossed in ATLAS!

Another milestone has been passed in the long run of ATLAS toward new physics. On Monday August 9, 2010 ATLAS has recorded the first inverse picobarn (pb-1) of 7 TeV collisions. The trend is good and we recently reached the 0.1 pb-1 per day of integrated luminosity (meaning that we can now collect in ~10 days the amount of data we have collected over the last 4 months).

Blog | 10th August 2010

ATLAS starting to get on Top of things

ATLAS is about to check one more particle off of its Standard Model (SM) checklist. Namely the top quark. This famous quark is perhaps one of the most complex of the SM particles.

Blog | 26th July 2010

Sleepless Nights Lead to First Results of 2010...

Do you hear that? The incessant typing? The coffee machines vending cup after cup? If you go to Building 40, or Building 32, Building 188, or to any one of the many graduate student offices around the world, you will hear the tap of key boards, the whir of disk drives, and even the occasional heated civil discussions with "elevated" voices.

Blog | 6th June 2010

Conversations on Shift

When the detector is running smoothly, neighbors in the ATLAS control room sometimes get conversational. A few days back I was on shift, quietly looking at plots on the monitor in front of me, trying to decide if one small sensor was misbehaving or not. “I have a question,” the shifter next to me said.

Blog | 26th May 2010

A new record run

In the evening of Saturday May 15, we have reached a new peak luminosity record of 6 1028 cm-2s-1

Blog | 16th May 2010

Putting the Squeeze on the Protons

It took a little bit of time, but the wait was worth it. The LHC has successfully achieved its first physics run with "squeezed beams"!

Blog | 26th April 2010

One in a few million

ATLAS has been designed to detect rare events in high energy proton-proton collisions. ATLAS ultimate goal is to measure events as rare as one in several thousand billions, but we are modest (for the time being) waiting for the luminosity to rise.

Blog | 24th April 2010

Its All About The Lumi!

Now that the LHC has established colliding stable beams at a center of mass energy of 7 TeV, the next step to maximize its physics reach is to provide the most luminosity possible. As Leo posted, we need to increase the number of proton - proton collisions to make sure we have a chance of seeing the physics that we are looking for. The reason for that is because different p.hysics processes have different probabilities. These probabilities are referred to as cross-sections (in a vague reference to the particle's size). If one multiplies a cross section by a luminosity than what you get is a number of events.

Blog | 6th April 2010