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ATLAS Week July 15, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in ATLAS, physics life.
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IMG_2951Last week was the big once-a-year ATLAS Overview Week. ATLAS holds several collaboration meetings each year. The Overview week is a one week retreat — far enough from CERN that everyone can talk and discuss and isn’t constantly distracted by work. A retreat, of sorts. Many other collaborations do this – both CDF and D0, for example. I’m conflicted about the ATLAS version of these meetings.

First off, this one was better than the last. That isn’t to take anything away from the last one in Glasgow – which was well organized and had a lot of good talks and discussions. This one, in Bern, takes place about two months before we are expecting data, however. I think that gave it a totally different tone. There was much less star gazing — grand plans of the discoveries we would make when the LHC first turned on. That said… the week was organized to approximately follow the flow of the data, from the LHC, to the various sub-detectors, to the trigger, to basic object identification, and, finally, to physics.

The beginning of the week was fascinating. Almost all detector groups now have real data to play with in the form of cosmic rays. They have real problems. They are starting to measure actual numbers of dead channels. They are spending their time getting every channel and readout board working. Those talks had a good dose of realism. I particularly remember, in response to a question, the head of the trigger commenting that the first thing to do was get the most basic stupidest trigger working: a bunch crossing trigger. None of this fancy electron or muon identification. Just the most basic thing so that everyone else could start to see triggers – then everyone can work in parallel. Very cool.

As we got further and further away from the detector and cosmic ray data, the talks were not as compelling. This isn’t a criticism, it is just they don’t have real data to play with. The b-tagging work that I am participating in, for example, needs a collection of jets with tracks to make it real. That means that a trigger, a calorimeter, and a tracker have to work. That means the tracking software has to work, the jet reconstruction software has to work. While all of that has been testing in bits and some of it has been tested with Monte Carlo… well, nothing replaces real data. I can’t wait.

But those first few days where you could hear the panic of “data! We have to make this work now!” setting in definitely made the talks in this meeting well worth it. Which brings me to my main beef with this conference. I think this is one of the most expensive conferences I’ve ever attended – and it is an internal meeting. I understand why it was expensive – we are a large group and it is hard to find a cheap venue that will hold us and this is Switzerland, which is just expensive no matter how you look at it; doubly so for someone in the USA due to the exchange rate. The upshot is that many people who I think wanted to attend could not because their groups could not afford it. I noticed this with both European and US groups. This is too bad. More than one person explained that this was historical – Overview weeks were aimed to give an overview of the current status of the experiment – so just the big guys would attend.

I really like the idea that these meetings occur away from CERN. I hope that we in ATLAS can adapt them to become workshops which include postdocs and students – indeed, are more aimed at them then they are at old people like myself.

The other half of this meeting was that I had internet access between 8am and 6pm, and that was it. I found myself going out at night, always coming home a bit drunk, but up at 7am and sitting in the meeting room by 8 or 8:30 (except, ahem, for Friday). I got more done there than I have in a long time and I still managed to listen to most of the talks. Even got to bed at a more reasonable hour. Suddenly no Internet at home is starting to sound reasonable! Despite the horrible train ride home, I returned refreshed. That almost is never the case for me and a conference. I usually am more stressed out because I’ve fallen so far behind on work.

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