Evening, Friday September 23rd. I came from Saclay (near Paris) to participate in the ‘Researchers’ Night’ event taking place across CERN as part of the European Researchers’ Night initiative. Students aged 13 to 18 were on their way from all around the local area to learn about what on earth it is we do at the mysterious “Point 1” – ATLAS’s home on the LHC ring. Three different groups of 10 or so students were to stay with the ATLAS team in the experiment’s control room from 6:00 p.m. until midnight, helping shifters to take data and monitor the experiment…
Early in the evening, we gave the students an introduction to “Physics at the LHC” as well as ATLAS itself. We wanted to help them understand what our main goals here are, although it was surprising how tricky it was to find the proper words to describe our job! After their stints in the control room, each group of students was invited to fire questions and discuss informally with ATLAS physicists over cookies and soda.
Talking can only do so much though. In order for the students to really get a feel for what we do as experimental physicists, we organized a workshop around one of our 3D visualization software programs. Groups of three – two students and one ATLAS physicist – split off to play with the graphical tool, which shows the tracks and energies of particles created by proton collisions. The idea was to “clean up” an event just like the ones the students had been helping to record in the control room. They had to make cuts and selections, and find ways to pull out the most interesting events from the overwhelming jumble of non-interesting events in the background.
The 3D visualization is similar to a video game; most of the students were able to master it incredibly quickly (some of them better than our ATLAS colleagues!) The hope is that, by giving these young people a glimpse of the way physicists may eventually find new particles or new phenomena, our research domain now seems more accessible to them.
Laurent Chevalier – a research scientist with CEA Saclay, France – helped design and build ATLAS’s muon spectrometer and is studying high mass di-muons. He is involved with measuring understanding the magnetic field in the ATLAS detector, precision mapping of the muon spectrometer, and developing 3D event visualization tools.