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Coding has no gender

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 11:12

Evangelia Gousiou (right): “Nothing beats the rush you get when something that you designed works for the first time.” (Image: Jacques Fichet/CERN)

With 11 February marking the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, female physicists, engineers and computer scientists from CERN and from Fermilab share their experiences of building a career in science.

Evangelia Gousiou: “Nothing beats the rush you get when something that you designed works for the first time.”

Electronics engineer, Evangelia Gousiou, talks about what led her to a career in engineering. (Video: Jacques Fichet/CERN)

Electronics engineer, Evangelia Gousiou, began her career studying IT and Electronics in Athens, Greece, before beginning an internship at a manufacturing plant in Thailand. She came to CERN for a one-year position, and now, ten years later is still at CERN enjoying a job that is never boring.

“Work is never repetitive, which makes it very rewarding. I usually follow a project through all its stages from conception of the architecture, to the coding and the delivery to the users of a product that I have built to be useful for them. So I see the full picture and that keeps me engaged.” - Evangelia Gousiou

For Evangelia, to be a good electronics engineer means knowing a range of disciplines, from software to mechanics. There is also the human aspect, as she works daily with people from many different cultures.

At school, her favourite subjects were maths and physics, as she enjoyed finding out how things worked, yet Evangelia never dreamt of being an engineer when she grew up. When the time came to choose what to study, she felt that engineering would be something interesting to study and future-proof, and then she got hooked and now can’t imagine doing anything else. “I would recommend engineering professions for their intellectual challenge and the empowerment that they bring,” she beams.


CLIC technology lights the way to compact accelerators

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 11:14

A CLIC X-band prototype structure built by PSI using Swiss FEL technology. (Image credit: M Volpi)

What if accelerators could be more compact and more cost-effective? It would make their use in research, industry and medicine more affordable and more accessible. This is where the CompactLight project steps in. This new European project, which kicked off on 25 January at CERN, aims to use advanced linear-accelerator (linac) technology, developed at CERN and elsewhere, to develop a new generation of compact X-ray free-electron lasers (XFELs).

XFELs work by accelerating electrons at almost the speed of light before sending them through “undulators”, which are an array of magnets producing alternating magnetic fields. These fields deflect the electrons back and forth to produce high-intensity X-ray beams of unprecedented brilliance and quality. These X-ray beams provide novel ways to probe matter and allows researchers to make “movies” of ultrafast biological processes. The demand for such high-quality X-rays is large, as the field still has great and largely unexplored potential for science and innovation – potential that can be unlocked if the linacs that drive the X-ray generation can be made smaller and cheaper.

By using a technology known as “X-band”, linacs can accelerate electrons with higher accelerating-gradients, resulting in shorter accelerating cavities and hence a more compact machine. X-band technology is the result of years of intense research and development at SLAC in the US, KEK in Japan and at CERN in the context of the Compact Linear Collider (CLIC) project.

The latest developments in high-quality beam sources, as well as innovative undulators are also part of the recipe for achieving a significant reduction in facility cost. Compared with existing XFELs, the proposed facility can have a lower electron-beam energy (due to the enhanced undulator performance), so can be more compact (with both lower energy and a higher accelerating-gradient) and have lower electrical power demand.

Success for CompactLight will have a much wider impact: not just establishing X-band technology as a new option for accelerator-based facilities, but integrating advanced undulators to the next generation of compact photon sources. This can help the wider spread of a new generation of compact X-band-based accelerators and light sources, with a large range of applications including medical use, and enable the development of compact cost-effective X-ray facilities at national or even university level across and beyond Europe.

The three-year CompactLight project, funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme, brings together a consortium of 21 leading European institutions, including Elettra, CERN, PSI, KIT and INFN, in addition to seven universities and two industry partners (Kyma and VDL). The CompactLight kick off took place during the 2018 CLIC workshop, held at CERN.

This article is based on a recent CERN Courier article.

Particle physics on the brain

Tue, 01/30/2018 - 10:16

A PET scan of the human brain showing energy consumption. The brain consumes seven times less power than a typical laptop but is capable of far more complex tasks. (Image credit: Jens Maus, Wikimedia Commons)

Understanding the fundamental constituents of the universe is tough. Making sense of the brain is another challenge entirely. Each cubic millimetre of human brain contains around 4 km of neuronal “wires” carrying millivolt-level signals, connecting innumerable cells that define everything we are and do. The ancient Egyptians already knew that different parts of the brain govern different physical functions, and a couple of centuries have passed since physicians entertained crowds by passing currents through corpses to make them seem alive. But only in recent decades have neuroscientists been able to delve deep into the brain’s circuitry.

On 25 January, speaking to a packed audience in CERN’s theory department, Vijay Balasubramanian of the University of Pennsylvania described a physicist's approach to solving the brain. Balasubramanian did his PhD in theoretical particle physics at Princeton University and also worked on the UA1 experiment at CERN’s Super Proton Synchrotron in the 1980s. Today his research ranges from string theory to theoretical biophysics, where he applies methodologies common in physics to model the neural topography of information processing in the brain.

“We are using, as far as we can, hard mathematics to make real, quantitative, testable predictions, which is unusual in biology.” - Vijay Balasubramanian

The brain's basic architecture is reasonably well understood. Highly complex sensory and cognitive tasks are carried out by the cooperative action of many specialised neurons and circuits, each of which has a surprisingly simple function. Balasubramanian used examples including our sense of smell, which allows humans and other animals to distinguish vast arrays of odour mixtures using very limited neural resources, and our “sense of place" (how we mentally represent our physical location) to demonstrate that brains have evolved neural circuits that exploit sophisticated principles of mathematics – some of which are only now being discovered.

Remarkably, predictions made by fairly crude models are turning out to describe the brain’s circuits rather well, often challenging traditional thinking. In general, Balasubramanian’s calculations suggest that animals have evolved to get the biggest cognitive bang for the least possible number of neurons. “Neurons are expensive!” he says, pointing out that the brain makes up just two per cent of our bodyweight but represents 20 per cent of our metabolic load. The brain consumes just 12W of power, seven times less than a typical laptop computer, yet boasts significantly more computational power harnessed to perform subtler functions. “The brain can make us fall in love, whereas the computer hardly recognizes a face,” he says.

Still, Balasubramanian thinks humans overestimate their cognitive abilities: we are not quite as special as we think we are. He argues that the majority of our brain’s behaviour stems from primal wiring that is common to most vertebrates. While a quantitative understanding of higher concepts such as “thoughts” or “consciousness” is still far off, clearly there is fertile ground for physicists to explore in the fast changing world of neuroscience.

Watch the recording of Balasubramanian's CERN talk here.

CERN at the World Economic Forum

Tue, 01/23/2018 - 15:25

CERN Director-General, Fabiola Gianotti, (second from right) joins her fellow co-chairs at the World Economic Forum press conference earlier today. (Image: WEF)

This week, CERN's Director-General, Fabiola Gianotti, is attending the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos as co-chair.

Among the discussions and exchanges, she will be taking part in a panel discussion today at 6pm CET entitled "Creating a shared future in a fractured world" alongside fellow co-chairs: Chetna Sinha, Erna Solberg, Christine Lagarde, Sharan Burrow, Ginni Rometty and Isabelle Kocher. Watch it live here.

On Thursday 25 January, she will take part in a panel discussion at 11.50am CET "Creating a shared future through education and empowerment" alongside Justin Trudeau, Orit Gadiesh and Malala Yousafzai. Watch it live here.

"It is a great honour to have been chosen for this role and I hope to show the importance of scientific input in global discussions," says Fabiola Gianotti.

"I will take this great opportunity to highlight the role of fundamental science in the progress of knowledge, as a driver of innovation to the benefit of society and as a way to foster peaceful collaboration among people from all over the world. I will also emphasise the importance of education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and of open access to scientific results and developments for all."

Read more about how she believes that science is universal and unifying.

Next piece of puzzle arrives for ProtoDUNE

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 15:06

An overhead crane moves the new 6.3m by 2.3m module into its vertical position. (Image: Maximilien Brice/CERN)

An impressive component arrived at CERN’s Neutrino Platform this week: the first UK-built Anode Plane Assembly (APA) module for the protoDUNE detectors.

These detectors are prototypes for the US-based Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), which will study the differences between neutrinos and anti-neutrinos to help understand how the Universe came to be made up of matter.

ProtoDUNE at CERN consists of two large neutrino detectors, each filled with liquid argon.

The new module hanging in the foreground travels towards one of the red protoDUNE detectors. (Image: Maximilien Brice/CERN)

The APAs are large rectangular steel frames covered with approximately 4000 wires and will be used to read the signal from particle tracks generated inside the liquid-argon detector.

Many more components for the detector are being built around the world and some, such as this APA, are arriving at CERN to be installed in protoDUNE


Read more about the Dune detectors in Symmetry magazine. 

Long-lived physics

Thu, 01/18/2018 - 14:18

The CMS experiment is looking for exotic long-lived particles that could get trapped in its detector layers (Image: Michael Hoch, Maximilien Brice/CERN)

New particles produced in the LHC’s high-energy proton-proton collisions don’t hang around for long. A Higgs boson exists for less than a thousandth of a billionth of a billionth of a second before decaying into lighter particles, which can then be tracked or stopped in our detectors. Nothing rules out the existence of much longer-lived particles though, and certain theoretical scenarios predict that such extraordinary objects could get trapped in the LHC detectors, sitting there quietly for days.

The CMS collaboration has reported new results in its search for heavy long-lived particles (LLPs), which could lose their kinetic energy and come to a standstill in the LHC detectors. Provided that the particles live for longer than a few tens of nanoseconds, their decay would be visible during periods when no LHC collisions are taking place, producing a stream of ordinary matter seemingly out of nowhere.

The CMS team looked for these types of non-collision events in the densest detector materials of the experiment, where the long-lived particles are most likely to be stopped, based on LHC collisions in 2015 and 2016. Despite scouring data from a period of more than 700 hours, nothing strange was spotted. The results set the tightest cross-section and mass limits for hadronically-decaying long-lived particles that stop in the detector to date, and the first limits on stopped long-lived particles produced in proton-proton collisions at an energy of 13 TeV.

The Standard Model, the theoretical framework that describes all the elementary particles, was vindicated in 2012 with the discovery of the Higgs boson. But some of the universe’s biggest mysteries remain unexplained, such as why matter prevailed over antimatter in the early universe or what exactly dark matter is. Long-lived particles are among numerous exotic species that would help address these mysteries and their discovery would constitute a clear sign of physics beyond the Standard Model. In particular, the decays searched for in CMS concerned long-lived gluinos arising in a model called “split” supersymmetry (SUSY) and exotic particles called “MCHAMPs”.

While the search for long-lived particles at the LHC is making rapid progress at both CMS and ATLAS, the construction of a dedicated LLP detector has been proposed for the high-luminosity era of the LHC. MATHUSLA (Massive Timing Hodoscope for Ultra Stable Neutral Particles) is planned to be a surface detector placed 100 metres above either ATLAS or CMS. It would be an enormous (200 × 200 × 20 m) box, mostly empty except for the very sensitive equipment used to detect LLPs produced in LHC collisions.

Since LLPs interact weakly with ordinary matter, they will experience no trouble travelling through the rocks between the underground experiment and MATHUSLA. This process is similar to how weakly interacting cosmic rays travel through the atmosphere and pass through the Earth to reach our underground detectors, only in reverse. If constructed, the experiment will explore many more scenarios and bring us closer to discovering new physics.

Lithuania becomes Associate Member State of CERN

Mon, 01/08/2018 - 12:21

CERN Director General, Fabiola Gianotti, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania, Linas Linkevičius, and the President of the Republic of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaitė at the signing of the agreement (Image: Julie Haffner/ CERN)

Today, the Republic of Lithuania became an Associate Member State of CERN. This follows official notification to CERN that the Republic of Lithuania has completed its internal approval procedures, as required for the entry into force of the Agreement, signed in June 2017, granting that status to the country.

Lithuania’s relationship with CERN dates back to 2004, when an International Cooperation Agreement was signed between the Organization and the government of the Republic of Lithuania setting priorities for the further development of scientific and technical cooperation between CERN and Lithuania in high-energy physics. One year later, in 2005, a Protocol to this Agreement was signed, paving the way for the participation of Lithuanian universities and scientific institutions in high-energy particle physics experiments at CERN.

Lithuania has contributed to the CMS experiment since 2007 when a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed marking the beginning of Lithuanian scientists’ involvement in the CMS collaboration. Lithuania has also played an important role in database development at CERN for CMS data mining and data quality analysis. Lithuania actively promoted the BalticGrid in 2005.

In addition to its involvement in the CMS experiment, Lithuania is part of two collaborations that aim to develop detector technologies to address the challenging upgrades needed for the High-Luminosity LHC.

Since 2004, CERN and Lithuania have also successfully collaborated on many educational activities aimed at strengthening the Lithuanian particle physics community. Lithuania has been participating in the CERN Summer Student programme and 53 Lithuanian teachers have taken part in CERN’s high-school teachers programme.

The associate membership of Lithuania strengthens the long-term partnership between CERN and the Lithuanian scientific community. Associate Membership allows Lithuania to take part in meetings of the CERN Council and its committees (Finance Committee and Scientific Policy Committee). It also makes Lithuanian scientists eligible for staff appointments. Finally, Lithuanian industry is henceforth entitled to bid for CERN contracts, thus opening up opportunities for industrial collaboration in areas of advanced technology.