How do you spend your rest and relaxation time?

In physics, as in running, how you manage your rest time is just as important as how you spend your time working (or training).

I am currently preparing for a long-distance race in April, so even though I have a to-do list that extends onto multiple pages, this gives me the motivation to take time away from my computer and get outside. Yesterday I went for a run along the La Seine, up to the famous Notre Dame cathedral and down to Luxembourg gardens. It was a beautiful sunny day, but the temperature was around freezing. Below are a few photographs I stopped to take along the way.

How do you spend your time off? Let me know in the comments below!

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Séminaire Poincaré

Last Saturday was the Séminaire Poincaré at l’Institut Henri Poincaré in Paris. There was a whole day of talks on ‘Le Boson H’ which translates to ‘the H[iggs] boson’, although for reasons that may soon become apparent, it was only referred to as the H boson in the talks. Unfortunately because of a flight that evening, I could only make the morning session, but the timing wasn’t too bad as the first talk was the one that I really wanted to see. That morning was one where I truly appreciated living in Paris. I woke up at a reasonable time for a Saturday morning and took a short bus to the institute, which is close to the Pantheon and just south of the Notre Dame cathedral.

Seminaire Poincare poster
Seminaire Poincare poster

The lecture theatre was smaller than I expected, but completely packed when I arrived and it was difficult to find a seat. Not surprising since the first talk was given by Professor François Englert, the Belgian theoretical physicist who shared the Nobel prize for physics in 2013 for: “… the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider”.

Prof. Englert answering questions after his Seminairé Poincaré talk.
Prof. Englert answering questions after his Seminairé Poincaré talk.

The talk was in French, but with the use of the slides and a knowledge of the subject I was able to follow along happily. When the seminar stopped for lunch, I went down to the front to talk to Prof. Englert. I asked if he would sign my copy of the seminar papers, which he was more than happy to do.

Signed copy of the Séminaire Poincaré papers by Prof. Englert.
Signed copy of the Séminaire Poincaré papers by Prof. Englert.

I explained to Prof. Englert that I was a particle physicist working on the ATLAS experiment at CERN. He asked if we’d met before and I told him that although we’d not met directly, we had been present in the same room, when the announcement of the new boson discovered at CERN was made in 2012. He apologised to me for not recognising me, to which I replied that it was a busy and exciting day, plus I was all the way at the back of an extremely packed auditorium, while he had been reserved a space at the front. It was a very nice chat and an honour to meet him. Afterwards I asked if we could have a photograph together.

Photo with Prof. Englert
Photo with Prof. Englert.

Edit: If you look closely at the photo you might be able to see that Prof. Englert was wearing a particle physics tie and, the ultimate physics fashion accessory, a Nobel prize gold pin.

CERN Dishwasher

While I was curating the @RealScientists account and generally being a tourist at work around CERN, I snapped a photo of dishwasher that was being used to clean a readout board I needed for my test beam experiment. I put the photo up on Twitter and it got a little bit of attention. The photo was spotted by CERN, and yesterday Rosaria Marraffino wrote a CERN bulletin article about the dishwasher. It seems to be a very popular image as only a day later it’s already amassed over a thousand retweets on Twitter! Here’s the tweet (below) and a link to the article.

Academic nomad

Here is a collection of some of my favourite photos taken on my academic nomadic journeys. Most of them were shot with a phone and they may have been Instagram’ed for the filters. You can expect a mixture of scenic and scientific.

(Note this album will be updated as I take new photos – come back later to see what’s new!)

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My office this morning. #academicnomad

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Vineyard.

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This week I'm in Lund for the LHCP conference.

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Piazza Castillo, Turin, Italy. #academicnomad

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At the test beam at @CERN.

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Bright rainbow at @cern.

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Beautiful books in the work library. #BeautifulBooks

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Horseshoe at sunrise.

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Real Scientists

Last week I was the curator of the Real Scientists Twitter account (@RealScientists). It coincided with a trip to CERN for a test beam experiment so I took full advantage of being on site to show as much of CERN as possible. I ended up having a lot of fun being a tourist in my own lab and got to see parts of the site I’d never been to before! It started off a little slow as I found my feet with a new (to me) account and as I prepared for my trip, but everything really took off Tuesday morning when I landed in Geneva.

I wanted to include as many photos as I could, to allow people to feel like they were really visiting the lab. The following was a very popular image (but please excuse the typo, the WWW was invented just *over* 25 years ago).

I also talked about my preparations for the experiment at CERN, including a bit of shoe-shopping!

Continue reading Real Scientists

Maths at CERN

A few months ago I took part in a recording of a podcast about some of the different mathematical techniques used at CERN. Specifically, the podcast was looking at A-Level maths used by people in different careers and the aim was to inspire school students to study the subject in the UK.

The first example that came to my mind when I thought about where we use maths often was sigma, which is written with the Greek letter σ. This is the value you will often hear particle physicists use to describe how confident we are with the result and was mentioned a lot during the announcement of the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012. One sigma (or 1σ) is the standard deviation of a distribution of numbers and roughly 66% of the numbers should fall within it. For the announcement of a new particle, we use the criteria of 5σ, which tells us that there is a 1 in 3.5 million chance that, if the Higgs didn’t exist, we would still get this result.

I also talked about how the theory of antimatter came about. In short, when Paul Dirac was attempting to combine quantum mechanics (the world of the very small) with special relativity (the world of the very fast) into a single equation. His equation had a squared number in it, specifically for the energy term, and to solve it he needed to take the square root. From maths we know that the square-root of a number can either be positive or negative. But can you have negative energy? Dirac thought not, and the only other way to solve the equation was to introduce an entirely new set of particles with the same properties as those we already have, but with the opposite charge. This is what we now know as antimatter. Only a few years later, Carl Anderson made the discovery of the first antimatter particle with his famous bubble chamber experiment!

Positron Discovery

Yesterday the episode of the podcast with my interview was released and you can check it out at the following link, look for “Episode 5: CERN and standard deviation”

http://www.furthermaths.org.uk/podcasts

At the end of each podcast, they give a puzzle. The one for this episode is:

Puzzle: The heights of a group of people are measured, and the resulting data has mean 1.35m, and standard deviation 0.13m. Someone in the group is 180.5cm tall. How many standard deviations away from the mean are they?

Can you work it out? Leave me a comment with the answer below! I’ve been mean and not given the solution, so if you want to compare your answer with theirs, you’ll have to head to the link above.

Conference Travel

One of the perks of being a particle physicist, is the travel. Actually, I should rephrase that: one of the perks of being a particle physicist with a (limited) travel budget is that you get to travel. But you have to earn it.

As I write this I am sat in the departure lounge of Paris’ Charles De Gaulle airport waiting for a flight to Toronto. I’m headed to the PIXEL2014 conference at Niagara Falls to present the results from my lab. I’ve barely slept in the last week as I try to condense all of our research into a 25 minute PDF. I’ve amused myself by finding tenuous reasons to include photos of the #67P comet that the ESA ROSETTA mission is studying (because it’s cool right now), and also the cover art of the 1989 SimCity computer game (because it’s always been cool), not to mention almost compulsory photos of the beautiful conference location, the falls themselves.

The horseshoe waterfall take just after sunrise.
The horseshoe waterfall taken just after sunrise.

This is one of the major conferences this year for researchers working on pixel detectors (it’s aptly named, unlike the BEACH conference that was in Birmingham, UK this year) and I’m really looking forward to the talks and the discussions. Also, as a young researcher, it’s important for me to begin to mix with other researchers in my area; to learn from them, share my experiences and just to be known!

Oh, they’ve just called my gate! Got to run…

Note: Edited to include said beautiful photos of the conference location.

Taking pictures of particles and other stories from a high energy physicist