SMU postdoctoral researcher Aidan Randle-Conde, SMU Department of Physics, posted about his experience working at CERN on the blog Quantum Diaries. His March 6 entry details his thoughts about “Cleaning the world’s biggest machine,” CERN’s Atlas detector.

Researchers at Switzerland-based CERN, the largest high-energy physics experiment in the world, have been seeking the elusive fundamental particle the Higgs boson since it was theorized in the 1960s. The so-called “God” particle is believed to play a fundamental role in solving the important mystery of why matter has mass.

Thousands of scientists from around the world seek evidence of the Higgs particle through experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. The researchers analyze a flood of electronic data streaming from the breakup of speeding protons colliding in the massive particle accelerator.

Read Randle-Conde’s Quantum Diaries blog post.


Our shift starts with a briefing in the control room.

By Aidan Randle-Conde
Quantum Diaries

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012
Today I spent much of my time crawling around on hands and knees, picking pieces of rubbish from the innards of the ATLAS detector. It’s just one of those things that comes with the job and gives you a different view of the experiment (literally.) Before we start taking data we need to make sure that the ATLAS cavern is clean and safe. I call this process “Grooming the Beast”.

The ATLAS detector is housed in the ALTAS cavern, just behind the Globe at CERN. The journey down is long (more than 100 meters) and convoluted, with all kinds of doorways, locks, passages and elevators. Work has been taking place in the cavern during the winter shutdown to make improvements and sort out minor problems with the detector. Is a piece of the hardware getting damaged by interactions with matter? This is an excellent time to replace it!

Some of the team survey the work ahead of them.

Cleaning the cavern just as people start to leave it may seem like an unusual thing to do, but it serves a very important purpose. There has been a lot of work to improve the detector during the shutdown, and this leaves some debris. The engineers clear up as much as they can as they go along, but the odd screw or piece of wire goes missing, and over the months this builds up. The real danger to the machine is metal debris. The detector contains large magnets and these can interact with metallic objects lying around. They need to be removed before we turn on and take data!

Read Randle-Conde’s Quantum Diaries blog post.

SMU has a team of researchers led by SMU Physics Professor Ryszard Stroynowski working on the CERN experiment. The team includes three other Physics Department faculty: Jingbo Ye, Robert Kehoe and Stephen Sekula, six postdoctoral fellows, including Randle-Conde, and five graduate students.

Quantum Diaries, as the site explains, “is a Web site that follows physicists from around the world as they experience life at the energy, intensity and cosmic frontiers of particle physics. Through their bios, videos, photos and blogs, the diarists offer a personal look at the daily lives of particle physicists.”

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