Colliding Particles documentary update

Colliding Particles, the documentary that I have mentioned previously, has come out with their fifth episode, “Collidonomics”.

The documentary follows a few ATLAS physicists, doing a very nice job rendering the realities of the occupation. This episode begins with a funding review in the UK. We have just passed through the season for similar reviews in the US, where funding comes via the Department of Energy and to a lesser extent the National Science Foundation.

The DOE does a site visit every year; professors, post-docs, and some students give presentations outlining the progress of the experiment, their recent work, and what is planned for the coming year. I did a short presentation on my project for which there were some interesting times: my train hit a car on my trip back to Ann Arbor, the speakers before me ran long and squeezed my 10 minute slot to just a smidge under 0 minutes, and then both the wireless keyboard and mouse controlling the slides ran out of battery power simultaneously.

This episode of Colliding Particles also went along to the Les Houches workshop where can enjoy the Alps and get the classic scenes of physicists chatting over coffee. There certainly is great progress made in these cafeteria chats, but to someone who has followed an inordinate amount of LHC media coverage it often feels like physicists and the journalists that love them have few limits to the praise they’ll heap on the CERN Restaurant and it’s powers to birth theory and discovery. Office conversations, too, are possible (though crowding in the building 40 offices along with the openness of the remaining workspace pushes conversations away somewhat out of politeness). Also, I can’t say that I have been party to a lot of cafeteria conversations where people were just throwing around crazy ideas, most of the time you are merely following through on a topic that was just discussed in a meeting. The cafeteria is just the incubator, not the whole chicken.

The remainder of the episode is about the graduate student making a presentation in the Higgs working group. In these huge experiments the collaborations have to break up into working groups, each covering a broad physics area or an aspect of the detector operation. Roughly, presentations to a working group fall into one of three major categories,

  1. An update on the status of an analysis or study,
  2. Describing a technical issue that needs to be considered by the group, or
  3. Introducing a new technique to be blessed by the group.

In this case it is the third type.

In the end, if you want any of your work in the experiment published, you need to have all the members of the collaboration agree to your methods and results. The process of outlining your plans and progress is best started early, especially if you plan to employ an innovative technique (something everyone should be doing in some way). Usually results are discussed with an adviser or at a small subgroup meeting, until the results are refined; then a presentation is made to the relevant working group. As they say in the video, this is the point at which you most commonly run into someone who takes issue with what you’ve done. Usually this is because your work seems to improve on something they are invested in, and often their argument is that your results are not comparable to theirs. But, for the most part the comments and questions you get in these meetings are very helpful, and hopefully with a little extra work you can address the quibbles your collaborators have. It looks like this presentation goes just fine: with a few people almost nodding off and a couple basic questions near the end it’s very typical.

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