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Atom Smashers


By Don Lincoln

Published Jul 1, 2015 8:00 AM


Illustration by Aaron Ross

In order to be retrofitted, the CMS experiment required that both the LHC and CMS be substantially disassembled and reassembled. Greg Rakness, who was a UCLA researcher for 10 years before taking a fulltime position at Fermilab in April 2015, is the Co-Run Coordinator for the CMS experiment. It is his responsibility to ensure that all the components work together as designed.

“It’s an incredibly challenging task,” he says. “Pieces of equipment are shipped from over 100 institutions spread all over the world. We then have to connect them together in incredibly tight spaces. It’s like assembling a computer from scratch inside a bottle and guaranteeing that the computer will boot properly every time.”

Increasing Collisions

While particle physics research is typically the playground of graduate students and scientists who already have their doctorates, the CMS group at UCLA has a long history of involving undergraduates. Dozens of UCLA undergraduate students have made extremely important contributions, from assembling the huge muon detectors to building, testing and configuring thousands of electronic boards that enable the CMS detector to select the subset of data that has the best chance of leading to a discovery. These electronics have to work reliably and make a decision in about a millionth of a second. During the recent period of refurbishment, undergraduates Jacob Beres and Andrew Peck ’12 were stationed at CERN to help build and test additional muon detectors that will extend the experiment’s abilities.

“While making real contributions to frontier research, they get to experience firsthand the collaborative and international nature of work at CERN and learn about many aspects of detector hardware and electronics, while also getting a chance to enjoy the outdoor paradise that surrounds Geneva,” says Cousins. “It’s truly an extraordinary experience.”

Another challenging project in which UCLA undergraduates participated involved the invention of new technologies. For all the impressive capabilities of the CMS experiment, scientists expect that future LHC upgrades will increase the collision rate inside the CMS detector tenfold. Although this increased rate will provide additional opportunities for discoveries, it is accompanied by increased radiation damage to the central parts of the detector. In a few years, the battered heart of the detector will need to be replaced. This silicon-based detector will simply be worn out, and a new material will be required to survive the onslaught of collisions. UCLA undergraduates Charlie Schrupp and Taylor Barrella ’12 went to CERN as part of the team that tested a possible replacement technology made of diamond. Scientists hope that this new technology will be more robust against the punishing environment and could form the basis for a future upgraded detector.

“These undergraduate physics majors flew to CERN to be more than just spectators,” Saltzberg says. “By analyzing the beam data within minutes, they assured efficient use of the highly valuable and always all-too-brief beam time.”