Tag Archives: LHC

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

Higgs Boson and Beyond

In my last post, I wrote about the second year anniversary of the Higgs boson discovery, so it was very timely that the weekend directly afterwards I spent at the Royal Society‘s Summer Science Exhibition, talking to the public about the Higgs boson and where it could lead.

The Higgs Boson and Beyond logo.
The Higgs Boson and Beyond logo.

The exhibit was a partnership of many UK universities and they all sent researchers to take shifts on the stall during the event. I went on behalf of the University of Manchester. Here is a lovely video about the Higgs discovery, which was made for the exhibit:

High-energy physics aims to understand how nature works at a fundamental level described by elementary particles. Our current theory, the Standard Model of Particle Physics, is remarkably successful. Find out what the Higgs boson can tell us about new physics beyond the Standard Model.

Since I was working the¬†weekend shifts, the exhibit was very busy both days and I was able to chat with many different people, from very young children to senior citizens, all wanting to know: “what is the Higgs boson?”. There were a lot of¬†activities for them to take part in, such as working out the mass of the Higgs on a tablet computer, to manipulating a beam of electrons in magnetic field and also a competition to find rare Higgs events (and win prizes!). We also had an actual piece of the ATLAS detector (left over from when it was built) and¬†knitted particles to help explain the theory of supersymmetry (or SUSY for short).

It was also fantastic that so many female scientists were available to work on the exhibit – just being visible, especially when there were so many young children visiting the stall, makes a huge difference!

Speaking of children, they (and many adults) were very keen on our Nobel Prizes!

Unfortunately the Royal Society Summer Science event is over for this year, but I highly recommend that you take a look at the booklet (via the website) that was produced for the exhibit. It’s very beautiful and it elegantly explains the whole process of creating a Higgs boson and how we study it, including some very difficult concepts!

Also, if you’d like the Higgs Boson and Beyond stall for a future science festival event, get in contact with them either on Twitter, or through their website:¬†http://the-higgs-boson-and-beyond.org . Alternatively, you can leave a comment below and I will¬†pass the message on.

Successful installation of the ATLAS Insertable B-Layer

On the 8th of May,¬†I had some fantastic news in my inbox: the IBL, or Insertable B-Layer, had been taken 100m underground and installed into the ATLAS experiment at CERN! Unless you’re an ATLAS physicist yourself, you probably don’t know what I’m talking about when I mention the IBL. In short, it’s an extra layer of pixel detectors which has gone into¬†the very centre¬†of the ATLAS detector ready for data taking when we switch back on next year. This extra layer is there to cope with the upgrade of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) accelerator to a higher energy by being¬†faster, more accurate (the pixels are smaller) and better able to¬†withstand the more intense radiation background. Working on prototypes of pixel detectors for the IBL, specifically on a new technology called 3D silicon pixel sensors, was the focus of my¬†PhD¬†with the¬†University of¬†Manchester¬†and it’s brilliant¬†that it has been¬†successfully installed!

Installation of the Insertable B-Layer into the ATLAS detector. Photo credit Heinz Pernegger.
Installation of the Insertable B-Layer into the ATLAS detector. Photo credit Heinz Pernegger.


CERN opens doors for 60th celebrations

Last weekend was “Le CERN f√™te ses 60 ans avec ses voisins“, or public open day for CERN’s neighbours as part of the 60 years celebrations. If I’d known that I would definitely have been at CERN during the open day weekend, I would have volunteered to help, but instead I went along as a visitor myself. I have never been to visit the LHC tunnel before, so I was very excited yesterday when some friends said they were planning to go and that it was still possible to join a tour! It’s so rare to be able to visit the accelerator, because most of the time we are running and so it’s not open for tours – also, when the accelerator is on, it’s extremely radioactive!

Below are some of my photos from the trip underground and some extra explanations. Because my phone was already registered to connect to the CERN network, I had WiFi down there, so most of these were posted live.

The circumference of the LHC tunnel is 27 km, and there are only eight access points from the surface, so for the people working in the tunnel to get around easily there are bikes available.

For the LHC, there are two beams of protons; one goes clockwise and the other anticlockwise. These two beams need to be kept separate until we want to collide them inside one of the experiments around the ring.

We need strong magnets to bend the protons around the LHC, so they have to be cooled down to almost Absolute Zero (the coldest temperature there is at¬†‚ąí273.15 degrees Celcius!).

The following is a sign to warn people working in the tunnel that there is gas being used or stored nearby. There are many people, however, who think that the person in the sign just looks a bit sad…

The tunnel that the LHC is based in was originally built for a previous CERN accelerator, called the Large Electron-Positron Collider (LEP), which ran until 2000. A positron is the antiparticle of the electron. Using electrons and positrons¬†gives a much cleaner signal¬†because they are not composite particles (they do not contain other particles inside them). But because they are very¬†light, we cannot accelerate them up really¬†high energies and so the new particles we are looking for aren’t created. This is why it was decided to build a new particle accelerator after LEP finished but with protons instead of electrons.

The following signs are left over from when LEP was in the tunnel and remind people which way round each beam went.

Earlier we saw the bicycles used to get around the tunnels, but sometimes you need to carry equipment with you too – so you use these vehicles!

I had a great time seeing the LHC and it was a rare treat to be able to go down and visit the accelerator! After the LHC tour, we decided we would check out how busy the open day was at CMS (another experimental detector on the LHC) Рfor this, see part two!

If you were at CERN for the open day last weekend, leave me a comment to let me know what you thought.