Tag Archives: CERN

Creating a custom science-themed laptop skin!

As an experimental particle physicist, my laptop is an extension of myself. I use it every day to work, to run my code, to talk to colleagues around the world, to check Twitter, and also to relax. I’m writing this post on it right now!

Since I (usually) travel a lot, it’s a vital way that I can continue working on the road, or during a global pandemic.

Recently, I decided it needed decorating. I spent ages looking on a website that sold stickers for laptops for one that really resonated with me. I would be looking at this images for potentially years, I wanted it to be something I liked. In addition, people at work would be looking at it too (when we can finally leave our houses again), so it had to be something professionally appropriate too.

In the end I couldn’t decide on one image, so I decided to cover my laptop with many using a custom design! Here’s the result:

If you look closely, there are photos of the Large Hadron Collider, the four major detectors on the LHC (with a bias towards ATLAS, because that’s the one I’ve worked on for the last 10 years +) and other photos from around the CERN site, including the most famous one I’ve ever taken which is of a dishwasher!

If you want to make one of these yourself, here are the steps I took. Feel free to diverge at any point.

  1. Find out the size of your laptop in inches (sorry, metric-fans!). Most printers will want an image ‘resolution’ of 300 DPI, which means Dots Per Inch from the printer. To get this, you should multiply the length and width of your laptop in inches by 300 each and that’s the number of pixels your canvas size should be. For example, I have a MacBook Pro with a 15″ screen, so I needed 4140x2860px.
  2. Now that you have your canvas size, you need to pick your image. You could use one single large image (but you’ll want to make sure the resolution is high enough). Or, if like me you couldn’t pick just one, you need to plan out the multiple photos and how they will fit together. Please make sure that you have the right to use the images you want to include. For my design I either used photos I had taken myself (or asked someone to take for me on my own camera), or I used images from CERN which are free to use providing you’re not going to sell them or use them inappropriately. Please check out the CERN Terms of Use before going ahead.
  3. Next, you want to put your image(s) into your canvas. For this, I use the free version of Canva, which allows you to pick your canvas size, upload your images and fit them to a grid of your choosing. If you’ve never used Canva before and you click the link above, then we’ll both get a credit to put towards premium content after you’ve made your first design. If you don’t want to do that, then go to Canva.com directly :).
    Don’t forget to edit your images if you want to. I made all mine monochrome.
  4. Find a place to print your design! I used GelaSkins to print my design. Look for the ‘Create your own’ tab on their website. I messaged them beforehand to talk about what I wanted, and they discussed my order with me at every stage. They do ship from Canada, though, so if this is far from where you live, you’ll need to add in that there’ll be a higher delivery cost and time taken for the skin (as they call it) to arrive.
    (Note: I am not being paid to tell you about them, I was just very happy with how it turned out!)
    If you don’t feel creative yourself, they have a wonderful collection of art you could use instead. I had Vincent van Gogh’s Almond Blossoms on two of my previous laptops.
  5. Finally, wait for your design to arrive (shipping may take longer at the moment) and fit it onto your laptop. You’re on your own with that one though!

And that’s it! You don’t even have to stop at your laptop, you can cover your phone, tablet and more!

If you do make one, please feel free to share it with me below, or on Twitter or Instagram. I’d love to see your creations!

On Call for the ATLAS experiment

This weekend I was on call for the @atlasexperiment, specifically for our control room shifts monitoring the Inner Detector.

What does that mean?

It means I left my weekend free to be called if someone who was scheduled to be on shift during this time gets sick, injured, or is otherwise unavailable. It wasn’t likely that I’d be called, but it’s important to know someone qualified is free if needed.

On Saturday, I went to our control room to check how everything was going, and to pick up the phone I can be called on. Since it was a beautiful and sunny day, I went for a walk around our Globe of Science and Innovation here at CERN.

By the Globe, is this statue, covered in equations, diagrams and the names of historical scientists whose work has been influential to the research taking place at CERN.

This area is open to walk around on weekdays and on Saturdays at the weekend. So next time you’re in Geneva, Switzerland, why not come and check it out! And if you plan ahead, you can also book a tour of CERN!

Test Beams

The last ten days or so I’ve spent at CERN testing new designs of pixel detectors for the ATLAS experiment. Since it was the IOP’s #iamaphysicist event on the same day we were setting up, I tweeted out the following picture.

To measure our pixel detectors, we need a beam of particles from a particle accelerator. Fortunately at CERN, we have many to chose from! Just see the diagram of all of the accelerators required to get the protons to the LHC. Our experiment uses the SPS, or Super Proton Synchrotron, the last accelerator in the chain of accelerators which feed the LHC with protons. The protons enter the SPS at 25 GeV and are accelerated up to 450 GeV (note the LHC accelerates to 7500 GeV, or 7.5 TeV, per beam). We then use a target to change the type of particle from a proton to a pion.

cernaccelerators
The LHC is the last ring (dark grey line) in a complex chain of particle accelerators. The smaller machines are used in a chain to help boost the particles to their final energies and provide beams to a whole set of smaller experiments, which also aim to uncover the mysteries of the Universe.

Continue reading Test Beams

First 13 TeV Collisions with stable beams at CERN

Last Wednesday, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN started colliding protons with stable beams at the highest energy we’ve ever achieved! I had a very early start (alarm went off at 5.30am) to be in the ATLAS Control Room and tell everyone all about it on social media through the ATLAS Twitter accounts. There was a team of us from ATLAS Outreach working that day.

Even at 8am, it was standing room only as so many people wanted to see the first stable beam collisions at 13 TeV.

CERN had a live webcast to explain what was happening and at one point, when checking it, I realised I was live in the background of an interview with ATLAS Spokesperson, Dave Charlton. So, I acted natural and was thankful that, even though I was supposed to be doing the social media, I wasn’t on Facebook.

Me on the CERN webcast.
Me on the CERN webcast.

A little before 9am, the beams that had been increasing in energy inside the LHC were dumped and they had to start again. No problem, as it’s essentially a new machine, this was not unexpected. Everyone went to get coffee and breakfast (or second breakfasts) and I updated Twitter:

Continue reading First 13 TeV Collisions with stable beams at CERN

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.

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.