Devotion to the Tevatron
(This post first appeared on my current site, www.science20.com/quantum_diaries_survivor . Please note that I post on this site quite rarely. Please visit me on the science20 site for updates on experimental particle physics and more!).
I’m nostalgic tonight. The reason ? The Tevatron has finally stopped running, for good.
It’s strange to find out one can mourn the shutdown of a synchrotron just as the passing away of an old friend, but that’s more or less how I feel like tonight. And I am not even among the ones who can claim to have been around for the full duration of the machine’s lifetime, like Giorgio Chiarelli – as Giorgio recounted here, he was there in the CDF control room when the first proton-antiproton beams collided the first time, in 1985.
I started working in CDF in June 1992. In the course of these 19 years I have learned all I know about particle physics, and I have met a large number of extraordinary people. Not only ones from CDF: the Fermi laboratories are of course a place where you interact with the “competitors” from the other experiment, DZERO -you work elbow to elbow, go to the same parties, seminars, and events, and you share joys and frustrations as the machine which feeds data to both experiments outperforms or suffers technical stops. Plus of course technicians, machinists, administrative staff: a number of people who simply did their job there, but who all shared the pride of doing their part for the success of this remarkable human adventure.
As Gary Taubes explains in juicy details in his book “Nobel Dreams” (1987), it was Carlo Rubbia in the late seventies who first launched the idea of a proton-antiproton collider at Fermilab. Back then, he got severely beaten up by the lab director -he had a bad record of changing horses mid-race and keeping proposing new projects. But Rubbia was right: the technology was just getting mature enough for such a machine to be built. In the course of six months Rubbia learned all there was to know, and then some, about making antiprotons; and then CERN accepted his project. The W and Z bosons were discovered by the SppS experiments in 1983. By then, the Tevatron was already in place at Fermilab. Too late to challenge the discovery of the vector bosons, but timely to provide a precise measurement of their mass, and to search for the sixth quark, the top.
The history of the Tevatron and its many successes will no doubt be told by people who have participated more actively and deeply in it than myself, so there is no point for me to try and do that here tonight. I only choose to tell a personal story here. One where I take the part of the moron, incidentally, but that’s beside the point (and not that uncommon after all).
I was in charge as Scientific Coordinator in the CDF control room a few years ago, leading a crew of physicists in the task of taking data as smoothly as possible during my seven-night shift. It was not the first time on that job, but I was eager to see data coming in -you get that kind of feeling when you sit during long nights waiting for something to happen. For a few times in a row during the past nights the sequence of injection of beams in the Tevatron had been started, and then aborted, for a string of reasons which were not immediately clear, and in some cases possibly caused by human errors. In a moment of scorn, I let go with a sarcastic sentence in the CDF E-log: “Injecting protons again. Let’s see where they screw up this time”.
Now I should explain that, since English is not my native language, I have often trouble gauging how strong words are in a sentence I say or write. To me it sounded a bit like saying “let’s see where they find the trouble this time”, or not too much worse than that. But it was by far too careless.
So I was not intending to insult anybody’s competence, but the sentence was indeed inflamatory, plus of course unfit to an E-log. Worse than that, and not considered by me at the moment, the CDF E-log was readable by anybody, Main Control Room Machinists included. Heck, you too could read it in real time.
The following morning I was not even reproached too much for my stupid sentence, but from the feedback I got in a number of ways, that one time I learned quite something. I learned that out there, reading the CDF E-log, there were not just us in the control room, plus the other people on shift in the Main Control Room and in the DZERO CR, plus a handful of people on call for any problem the hardware or software could be facing. There was a whole community of colleagues who read the E-log as frequently as an addicted user reads his or her Facebook homepage. People who cared for the machine, for the data taking, for the success of the experiment. People who had devoted their life to make this as good Science as it could possible be. People who were ready to provide help to solve problems even when they were not on call, and who woke up in the middle of the night just to see whether a new store was in. All of these people had felt outraged by the lack of respect I had shown to the Tevatron machinists.
I have always said I appreciate men and women who regardless how serious their job is do not neglect to take it with a grain of irony; and yet I saw a flaw in that line of reasoning, confronted with the devotion of so many brilliant minds to the common good -the advancement of Science at the hands of the machine they had contributed building and operating for many years.
So the Tevatron has been turned off today, and many people are sad, each in their own private way. To many, the Tevatron was their life. To all, it was the machine that created the opportunity of getting together to work in a friendly, stimulating environment, growing professionally and intellectually. It was a fascinating machine, which deserves a whole chapter in a history of particle physics. 28 years old, with its glitchs and hiccups, by now old and patched up, the Tevatron was still incredibly performant until the very end. Farewell, Tevatron!
I had forgotten to link it from here, but the internet always provides a chance for redemption. So here I go. A couple of months ago I have opened another wordpress blog, where I write on particle physics – in Greek. This is a rather extravagant choice, and I think I need to spend a few words explaining it.
First of all, there is my love of the language, which I have been studying for two years. It is a difficult language to master, due to the interplay of several factors: the different alphabet, the enormous wealth of words, and the rather quick evolution of rules and uses. Maybe because of these challenges, I have found it quite entertaining to get on top of it.
The second reason for writing in Greek is, in fact, that I have yet a lot to learn, and I think that writing about science is a very good exercise, allowing me to find a solution to the translation problems I may encounter if I discuss about my job – physics – in that language.
The third reason is that I think there is no offer whatsoever in the web for a blog about particle physics in Greek (if you know any, let me know). So I might just try to fill that hole myself.
In short, the new blog is an experiment. I do not know, nor can predict, how long it will last; for now, if you know modern Greek please stop by. Below is a list of my recent efforts:
Just one line here to mention that since May there is a new blog out there – a temporary blog that will cover the end of July event in Paris – the International Conference on High Energy Physics -, how we get there, and the aftermath. The effort includes several well-known bloggers in high-energy physics, and is definitely worth following.
You can visit it here.
Some recent posts you might want to read
As the less distracted among you know, I have moved my blogging activities to scientific blogging last April. I wish to report here a list of interesting posts I have produced there in the course of the last few months (precisely, since the start of 2010). They are given in reverse chronological order and with zero commentary – come see if you are curious.
A reminder for the distracted
This blog is now inactive since April 15th, 2009, and although I will try to keep it active, by posting links every once in a while to my most relevant articles on the Scientific Blogging site which now hosts my main activities, you should update your bookmarks if you have not done so yet. I keep getting about 500 daily hits here, mostly from google searches of the few good posts among the thousand and more that I have put together in over three years of activity.
So please visit my other blog at Scientific Blogging! You will not be disappointed.
One million hits
While this site has been basically inactive for over two months, it still draws some residual traffic due to google searches and links; so the hit counter has continued to click after April 15th, although at a rate of roughly a third of what it did before.
Today’s news is that we got past the millionth click. Thanks to everybody for your interest in particle physics and in my reports. Please visit www.scientificblogging.com/quantum_diaries_survivor to keep up-to-date with particle physics!
Physics Highlights May 2009
Here is a list of noteworthy pieces I published on my new blog site in May. Those of you who have not yet updated their links to point there might benefit from it…
Four things about four generations -the three families of fermions in the Standard Model could be complemented by a fourth: a recent preprint discusses the possibility.
Fermi and Hess do not confirm a dark matter signal: a discussion of recent measurements of the electron and positron cosmic ray fluxes.
Nit-picking on the Omega_b Discovery: A discussion of the significance of the signal found by DZERO, attributed to a Omega_b particle.
Nit-picking on the Omega_b Baryon -part II: A pseudoexperiments approach to the assessment of the significance of the signal found by DZERO.
The real discovery of the Omega_b released by CDF today: Announcing the observation of the Omega_b by CDF.
CDF versus DZERO: and the winner is…: A comparison of the two “discoveries” of the Omega_b particle.
The Tevatron Higgs limits strenghtened by a new theoretical study: a discussion of a new calculation of Higgs cross sections, showing an increase in the predictions with respect to numbers used by Tevatron experiments.
Citizen Randall: a report of the giving of honorary citizenship in Padova to Lisa Randall.
Hadronic Dibosons seen -next stop: the Higgs: A report of the new observation of WW/WZ/ZZ decays where one of the bosons decays to jet pairs.
Post summary April 2009
As the less distracted among you have already figured out, I have permanently moved my blogging activities to www.scientificblogging.com. The reasons for the move are explained here.
Since I know that this site continues to be visited -because the 1450 posts it contains draw traffic regardless of the inactivity- I am providing here monthly updates of the pieces I write in my new blog here. Below is a list of posts published last month at the new site.
The Large Hadron Collider is Back Together – announcing the replacement of the last LHC magnets
Hera’s Intriguing Top Candidates – a discussion of a recent search for FCNC single top production in ep collisions
Source Code for the Greedy Bump Bias – a do-it-yourself guide to study the bias of bump fitting
Bump Hunting II: the Greedy Bump Bias – the second part of the post about bump hunting, and a discussion of a nagging bias in bump fitting
Rita Levi Montalcini: 100 Years and Still Going Strong – a tribute to Rita Levi Montalcini, Nobel prize for medicine
The Subtle Art of Bump Hunting – Part I – a discussion of some subtleties in the search for new particle signals
Save Children Burnt by Caustic Soda! – an invitation to donate to Emergency!
Gates Foundation to Chat with Bloggers About World Malaria Day – announcing a teleconference with bloggers
Dark Matter: a Critical Assessment of Recent Cosmic Ray Signals – a summary of Marco Cirelli’s illuminating talk at NeuTel 2009
A Fascinating New Higgs Boson Search by the DZERO Experiment – a discussion on a search for tth events recently published by the Tevatron experiment
A Banner Worth a Thousand Words - a comment on my new banner
Confirmed for WCSJ 2009 – my first post on the new site
!! Moving !!
Effective today: after forty months of service on wordpress, my blogging activity is moving to scientific blogging, an excellent site which collects many top-notch science writers. As soon as I manage to work it out, I will provide here a widget with links to my posts on that site, and possibly I will keep this site from being reported as mature by making a monthly entry with a link to the most interesting read in the new site. Other necessary adjustments are also in order, fixing some external links etcetera. But really, if you love me, please follow me there now.
I know, I can almost hear some of you complaining about this uncalled-for, unanticipated decision: this has indeed been a quick resolution, and quite un-characteristically the idea has not been submitted in advance here, to make a dry run and hear your opinions on the plan before it became a fact.
So, why am I doing it ? There are several answers to this question, and you may pick the one you like the most.
1) Blogging for me is about reaching as large an audience as possible, because I do conceive it as an educational mission. I have repeatedly explained here that I do not feel guilty for the time I invest on blogging, because my research position does not require me to teach, and I am glad to distribute through the internet some of the knowledge I have had the chance to accumulate through my studies and my job. Now, the target site of this move will increase my reach of potential readers, especially ones that might be interested in particle physics but have so far not realized it is not beyond their understanding capabilities. This by itself is a valuable asset.
2) While this blog has served my large ego extremely well, providing me with surprising opportunities and gratifications over the course of these forty months, I have realized that in its present form its further growth is problematic. Moving to scientificblogging.com will supply fresh air, new ideas, and a possibility to interact more closely with a stimulating crew of writers.