For spring break this year I went to visit Trang Ho, a good friend and an SMU graduate who is living abroad in France, about 15 minutes away from Gevena, Switzerland. Trang and I were both students in Dr. Steve Sekula’s Physics 1308 class in fall 2010.
Throughout the class, Dr. Sekula had mentioned his work at CERN and the ATLAS experiment. Since Dr. Sekula had sparked our interest in learning about the research that goes on at CERN, we asked him if he would mind showing us around on spring break, since he was going to be there at the same time. When Trang and I met Dr. Sekula at CERN for our tour, we got to see several fascinating displays and even got to witness firsthand some data coming in that day.
One of my favorite displays was the quark display. Quarks are elementary particles that make up protons and neutrons. In this display, there were three round ball structures representing the quarks, and we attempted to pull them apart with a rod. By doing so, we were able to feel the strength of the elementary particles, called gluons, which hold the quarks together.
The most exciting part of the tour was when we went to see where the data for the ATLAS experiment was received and analyzed. In this experiment, the data collected is from proton-proton collision in the LHC (Large Hadron Collider); and from this data, the different particles produced are studied along with the different paths and energies.
When we walked into the room, the researchers were receiving the first proton-proton collision data for the day, and we were able to witness it! Dr. Sekula was very excited about the data being gathered, so we were excited as well. We were able to see the different graphs that helped analyze the data gathered. From these graphs, we were even able to identify some electrons and muons that were produced from the collision. This experience was one of the most exciting parts of my trip, and I was extremely lucky to be able to be there.
All of the experiments going on at the LHC are working to gain a better understanding of particle physics, and ultimately the universe. I feel very fortunate being able to visit a place where such research is being done that can only better the future.