The Routine

We leave Gex, France, just before 9am; I’ve already got one cup of coffee in me, just enough to cut through the fog of having stayed up to midnight working on a project for the ATLAS trigger effort. (It probably would have gotten done sooner if I hadn’t been distracted by the U.S. v. Algeria World Cup match). My host, Jack, and I roll into CERN at quarter-past nine, and after some parting words I say hi to the folks in our official SMU office and then I am off to Building 40.


The official SMU office is pretty crowded in the summer, so for now Building 40 is my temporary work home. It’s one of the newer buildings at CERN, shaped like a giant “H” with a many-story, airy cylindrical atrium in the core. I call this a temporary work home not because I’m here only for the summer, but because our desks are only “rented” through the ATLAS Secretariat for 2 weeks at a time (we can try to renew on Friday at 2pm). Like all things at CERN, office space is coveted and comes at a premium. My post-doc (Aidan), student (Tingting), and I are overall pretty happy with our digs – a group of three desks spread over two neighboring rooms, with views overlooking the atrium.

I find Aidan and Tingting at their desks, and we retire to the atrium for a morning cup of coffee (“Un cafe au lait, s’il vous plait.”) Over sips of strong coffee (let’s call an espresso an espresso), we discuss the challenges of the day. Tingting, Aidan, and I lead off with a discussion of fundamental physics in the production and decay of Higgs bosons. The Higgs, a holy grail of the Large Hadron Collider, may come in one form (the one predicted by the Standard Model of Particle Physics, giving mass to electrons, quarks, and all other “known” particles) or many (which are needed if there are more particles in nature than are dreamed of in our philosophy). We’re interested in looking for exotic Higgs bosons, banking on the strong possibility that there are new building blocks of nature, yet to be discovered (Dark Matter being a prime example), which are going to need mass (and something’s gotta give it to them!).

Our discussion turns to technical problems – software and compilers and the ROOT physics analysis framework. We discuss our work with the ATLAS trigger group, and how to understand multiple proton collisions in the ever-increasing intensity of the Large Hadron Collider. The morning discussion runs a little long, but we all feel like we have direction.

By the time lunch rolls around, we’ve all accomplished a little something. This includes attending a short series of summer lectures on the physics of the Higgs particle (exotic or otherwise). We discuss more physics over lunch, and inevitably something get scrawled on a napkin (we haven’t needed to resort to bananas again . . . yet). After lunch, we try to do a few more hours of work on the trigger study and physics analysis before our meetings start. ATLAS tends to have the most interesting meetings in the later afternoon, to better accommodate collaborators from the U.S. By 4pm at CERN, it’s 9am in Dallas.

We get out of meetings after 5pm, sometimes after 6pm, and do a bit more work before scattering for dinner. I meet up with my host, and we drive back to Gex, talking about the crunch for the summer conferences, the achievements of the day, and the World Cup matches that night that await us when we get done with dinner.

About Stephen Sekula

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