Tag Archives: Manchester

Zombies at CERN

Not everyone who knows me, knows that I like horror films, but I do! In fact, I’m a particular fan of zombie films. I’m such a fan, I even made a feature length one with fellow zombie-loving physicists a few years ago at CERN! Our film is called Decay, and it’s named because decay is a word that is appropriate for both the zombie world and the particle physics one (when heavier particles change into lighter ones we say that they decay). It also conjures up images of nuclear decay and a lot of zombie films used radiation as their undead trigger. We were the first ones (as far as we know) to suggest that the dead could rise because of Higgs bosons created at the LHC at CERN! To learn a little more, I’ve added the trailer below.

 

We have to be clear that the film has never been endorsed by CERN, since it does have some questionable senior characters. But, they also didn’t shut us down, which was great! Since being released for free online less than two years ago, we’ve had almost four million views on youtube! It just goes to show how much people love (a) zombie films and (b) CERN, especially when it’s the two together!

So where’s the science in all of this you might ask? Well, there isn’t any. At least, we made it all up! We wanted to make fun of all those films with pseudo-science in them so we filled ours to the brim with bio-entanglement physics!

Clara in Decay
Screenshot of me in Decay, filmed at CERN in 2012.

I’ve added some screenshots from my moments of stardom in the film (two), although I was actually on-screen a lot more often than you might think, or at least on the set making something happen. As well as pensive physicist and later rampaging zombie, known affectionately as ‘Bitey‘, I also played a computer and a spray of blood.

When I wasn’t in front of the camera, I was on set doing something else. We were all amateurs on the film, so there was a lot to do and learn. One of my many hats on set was assistant director and one scene I was able to have a lot of control over was the ‘horde scene’ near the end of the film (which incidentally was my favourite one!). It was this scene where I had to ask roughly 50 physicists, all of whom had volunteered as zombie extras for us for the day, if any of them knew if they had a latex allergy!

Screenshots of me in our feature-length independent zombie movie filmed at CERN in 2012.
Screenshot of me in Decay, filmed at CERN in 2012.

The film got a lot of fantastic media coverage from all over the world! My favourite article title was: “Why a Zombie Movie Made by Physicists is the Best Kind of Science PR” in Slate. Occasionally someone will tell me about the film (unaware that I was involved) and it makes me really happy that people enjoyed it and are still talking about it!

I had a fantastic time making the film (in between the 13 hours sitting in a dark damp tunnel covered in red-coloured maple syrup that is!). I also think it’s awesome that I have an IMDb page and that we worked out we each have a defined Erdős–Bacon number of approximately 11!

A screenshot from my IMDb page.
A screenshot from my IMDb page.

If you want to watch the whole film, I’ve embedded it below! You can also leave me a comment to let me know what you think! (with a kind reminder that it’s a low budget horror movie made by amateurs! 😉 )

Oh, to prove that we actually had a lot of fun making the film here are some out-takes:

And the edited version of our Q&A session at the International and UK premiere of Decay in Manchester.

Advertisements

Graduation Day!

It’s been roughly nine months since I successfully defended my PhD thesis, and since then I’ve moved on to a new job, so I didn’t expect graduation day to be a big deal. I would put on the colourful robes, walk onto the stage to shake someone’s hand and collect my certificate – job done – but the day turned out to be a wonderful celebration of four great years of physics research with Manchester!

The year I started my PhD in the Particle Physics group in Manchester was a bumper year for graduate students. If I remember correctly, including the accelerator students, there were 13 of us starting at the same time. Adding in the students from the year below who have managed to complete things a little earlier and it meant that Wednesday was also a bumper day for graduations. At Manchester, there are ceremonies throughout two weeks which are generally split into subjects (especially if the subjects are large enough to fill the hall), so our graduation ceremony was only for the physics department. During this part of the ceremony I was reminded of how much outreach work was still required in my subject area; the students graduating at the ceremony were predominantly male and white. But, at least the post-grads are not a bad bunch!

PhD graduates in Physics, University of Manchester, 2014. Photo credit E.H.Maclean.
PhD graduates in Physics, University of Manchester, 2014. Photo credit E.H.Maclean.

The whole week was a time for celebration for my family as only the day before my older sister graduated from the University of Warwick with a PhD in Plant Sciences! Having the same first initial, we’d spent all of our lives getting confused by post addressed to Miss C. Nellist, but with us both becoming Dr Nellist, nothing changes – at least we’re in different fields!

MOSI Collider exhibit launch – a virtual view

A little over a week ago, on Thursday 22nd May, the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) launched the Collider exhibit, a recreation of the experience of visiting CERN. I would have loved to have been there to help out, but unfortunately I had meetings at CERN the same week and couldn’t go in person. So I did the next best thing and suggested that we organise an ATLAS Virtual Visit to connect the Collider exhibit to CERN. A virtual visit is a live online connection to the ATLAS control room and is often used by schools to allow students to talk to scientists about the research taking place on the ATLAS experiment at CERN. As an aside, if you are a school teacher, you can organise a virtual visit for your class for free! Go to the following link to find out more: http://atlas-live-virtual-visit.web.cern.ch/atlas-live-virtual-visit/

Being at CERN also allowed me to show an example of just how faithful the exhibit is at recreating the corridors at CERN. In the following photo, Marieke (Manchester Science Festival Director at MOSI) and Andy (University of Manchester) pose in front of the recreation of a CERN office door:

So I went to find the same corridor at CERN and take a similar photo:

I did get a few strange looks from the guy inside the office when I told him his door was part of an exhibit and I needed to shut it to take a photo!

In the ATLAS control room later that evening, we had physicists Steve Goldfarb, Hugo Day and myself. Hugo’s not technically an ATLAS physicist, but we let him off because he works on accelerators like the LHC, helping to provide us with lots of collision data! We chatted with visitors to the Collider launch as they walked past and answered their questions. I really enjoyed talking to everyone! Jon Butterworth, who was at the event to give a talk about his new popular physics book, Smashing Physics (available at all good book stores, I’m sure 😉 ) asked me where we were at the event. But honestly, I have no idea – all I could see of the room was red ceiling beams, which doesn’t narrow it down! Also, with the camera above us in the control room, and the computer screen below visitors in the exhibit, I did feel a little like they’d shrunk us and put us in the museum! You can see what I mean in the screenshot from the video feeds below.

At the launch of the Collider exhibit at MOSI, visitors talked to CERN scientists in the ATLAS Control Room.
At the launch of the Collider exhibit at MOSI, visitors talked to CERN scientists in the ATLAS Control Room. Screenshot courtesy of L. Aguirre.

I followed the rest of the launch on Twitter, and from what I could see it was a really successful evening! There were many Manchester physicists there to show what a strong contribution to the research at CERN Manchester (and indeed the UK) has. I was very proud when I saw the following tweet from a panel discussion with my PhD thesis examiner, masters supervisor and PhD supervisor respectively.

The launch was even covered by the BBC, with the title “‘Beautiful physics’ at Collider exhibition in Manchester”: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-manchester-27523417

If you’re near Manchester and haven’t yet been to the Collider exhibit I thoroughly recommend it! This Friday, 6th June, there’s a late night opening:

Join us for a night at the museum that will entertain, inform and inspire. Mingle with scientists who work on experiments at the Large Hadron Collider, get creative with drop-in screen printing workshops or make like an accelerated proton at our Large Hadron Collider roller disco*.

We’ll have another ATLAS Virtual Visit too, but this time with different physicists in the Control Room as I’ll be at the exhibit in person! Hopefully see you there!

If you’ve been to the Collider exhibit, in Manchester or when it was in London, I’d love to know what you thought, you can leave me a comment below!

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.