Archive for ATLAS

LHC Lights up NBI

Posted in Art, Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on November 16, 2012 by telescoper

Well, first things first. Congratulations to Dr Sabir Ramazanov on his successful thesis defence today! I’ll perhaps write a bit more about the process in due course.

After the formalities were concluded, however, the committee took a breath of fresh air outside the Niels Bohr Institute where, in the fading November twilight, we were treated to a peculiar light show; a set of small spotlights on the front wall of the NBI building is hooked up directly to the ATLAS experiment on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN so that every time an event registers in Geneva it is displayed almost immediately in public here in Copenhagen. Quite appropriate for a place so steeped in physics history. The resolution of the particle tracks is of course not marvellous, but it’s actually quite a remarkable thing to see, although not all that easy to catch it on camera, especially if you’ve had a couple of glasses of wine!

The Low-down on the LHC Boson

Posted in Open Access, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on August 2, 2012 by telescoper

Although it’s a little late I thought I’d just put up a brief post to draw your attention to the news that a couple of technical papers have appeared on the arXiv giving updated details of the recent discovery at the Large Hadron of a new scalar particle that could be the Higgs boson. I don’t think it’s yet absolutely proven that this is what the new particle is, which is why I’ve called it the “LHC boson” in the title.

The ATLAS paper reports the detection of a Higgs-like particle with a 5.9 sigma confidence level, up from the 5.0 sigma reported on July 4. Here’s the abstract:

A search for the Standard Model Higgs boson in proton-proton collisions with the ATLAS detector at the LHC is presented. The datasets used correspond to integrated luminosities of approximately 4.8 fb^-1 collected at sqrt(s) = 7 TeV in 2011 and 5.8 fb^-1 at sqrt(s) = 8 TeV in 2012. Individual searches in the channels H->ZZ^(*)->llll, H->gamma gamma and H->WW->e nu mu nu in the 8 TeV data are combined with previously published results of searches for H->ZZ^(*), WW^(*), bbbar and tau^+tau^- in the 7 TeV data and results from improved analyses of the H->ZZ^(*)->llll and H->gamma gamma channels in the 7 TeV data. Clear evidence for the production of a neutral boson with a measured mass of 126.0 +/- 0.4(stat) +/- 0.4(sys) GeV is presented. This observation, which has a significance of 5.9 standard deviations, corresponding to a background fluctuation probability of 1.7×10^-9, is compatible with the production and decay of the Standard Model Higgs boson.

The paper from CMS reinforces the discovery of a Higgs-like particle with a mass of 125 GeV at a 5-sigma level of confidence:

Results are presented from searches for the standard model Higgs boson in proton-proton collisions at sqrt(s)=7 and 8 TeV in the CMS experiment at the LHC, using data samples corresponding to integrated luminosities of up to 5.1 inverse femtobarns at 7 TeV and 5.3 inverse femtobarns at 8 TeV. The search is performed in five decay modes: gamma gamma, ZZ, WW, tau tau, and b b-bar. An excess of events is observed above the expected background, a local significance of 5.0 standard deviations, at a mass near 125 GeV, signalling the production of a new particle. The expected significance for a standard model Higgs boson of that mass is 5.8 standard deviations. The excess is most significant in the two decay modes with the best mass resolution, gamma gamma and ZZ; a fit to these signals gives a mass of 125.3 +/- 0.4 (stat.) +/- 0.5 (syst.) GeV. The decay to two photons indicates that the new particle is a boson with spin different from one.

I’ll refrain from commenting on the use of frequentist language in both these papers, but instead just comment that these extremely important papers are available for free on the arXiv. Open access, we call it.

PS. There’s an interesting blog post related to these papers, about citations in particle physics here.

The Higgs? A Definite Maybe..

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on July 4, 2012 by telescoper

This is really something for expert particle physicists to blog about, but I couldn’t resist saying something about this morning’s dramatic physics news.

Well, after yesterday’s preview here is the actual press release from CERN:

Geneva, 4 July 2012. At a seminar held at CERN1 today as a curtain raiser to the year’s major particle physics conference, ICHEP2012 in Melbourne, the ATLAS and CMS experiments presented their latest preliminary results in the search for the long sought Higgs particle. Both experiments observe a new particle in the mass region around 125-126 GeV.

“We observe in our data clear signs of a new particle, at the level of 5 sigma, in the mass region around 126 GeV. The outstanding performance of the LHC and ATLAS and the huge efforts of many people have brought us to this exciting stage,” said ATLAS experiment spokesperson Fabiola Gianotti, “but a little more time is needed to prepare these results for publication.”

“The results are preliminary but the 5 sigma signal at around 125 GeV we’re seeing is dramatic. This is indeed a new particle. We know it must be a boson and it’s the heaviest boson ever found,” said CMS experiment spokesperson Joe Incandela. “The implications are very significant and it is precisely for this reason that we must be extremely diligent in all of our studies and cross-checks.”

“It’s hard not to get excited by these results,” said CERN Research Director Sergio Bertolucci. “ We stated last year that in 2012 we would either find a new Higgs-like particle or exclude the existence of the Standard Model Higgs. With all the necessary caution, it looks to me that we are at a branching point: the observation of this new particle indicates the path for the future towards a more detailed understanding of what we’re seeing in the data.”

The results presented today are labelled preliminary. They are based on data collected in 2011 and 2012, with the 2012 data still under analysis.  Publication of the analyses shown today is expected around the end of July. A more complete picture of today’s observations will emerge later this year after the LHC provides the experiments with more data.

The next step will be to determine the precise nature of the particle and its significance for our understanding of the universe. Are its properties as expected for the long-sought Higgs boson, the final missing ingredient in the Standard Model of particle physics? Or is it something more exotic? The Standard Model describes the fundamental particles from which we, and every visible thing in the universe, are made, and the forces acting between them. All the matter that we can see, however, appears to be no more than about 4% of the total. A more exotic version of the Higgs particle could be a bridge to understanding the 96% of the universe that remains obscure.

“We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature,” said CERN Director General Rolf Heuer. “The discovery of a particle consistent with the Higgs boson opens the way to more detailed studies, requiring larger statistics, which will pin down the new particle’s properties, and is likely to shed light on other mysteries of our universe.”

Positive identification of the new particle’s characteristics will take considerable time and data. But whatever form the Higgs particle takes, our knowledge of the fundamental structure of matter is about to take a major step forward.

There’s a hive of internet activity related to this announcement, and I can’t possibly link to all the excellent expert commentary going on, but for details you can do no better that Sean Carroll’s live blog from Geneva or the Guardian’s live blog.

In a nutshell, there’s definitely something in both CMS and Atlas data which, if it really is a new particle,  is definitely a boson and which weighs in around 125 GeV. The two-photon decays are consistent with what a standard model Higgs boson would be expected to produce, for example. The consistency between the two experiments is very compelling.

The overall level of significance is around 5σ. I’ll refrain from making churlish comments about the frequentist language and just say that the LHC certainly seems to have detected something that could definitely be the Higgs. This is genuinely exciting because it has come more quickly than most people expected. That’s a tribute to the LHC teams, I’d say.

However, it isn’t yet proven that the Higgs what this particle is. If it’s a new particle that’s not the Higgs that could be even more interesting. To establish the identity of the particle that has been discovered will require a lot more work,  looking at much more detailed aspects of its behaviour as revealed by collision data. But it’s certainly possible that it is the Higgs, and I venture to suggest that’s what most particle physicists think it is.

So a discovery. A palpable discovery. Now comes the exploration…

Higgs Preview

Posted in Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on July 3, 2012 by telescoper

I’m a bit slow to post anything about the ongoing bout of Higgs-steria that’s been engulfing the interwebs in recent days. Even Andy Lawrence got there ahead of me.  What’s caused all the commotion is an announcement about an announcement from CERN at a special seminar tomorrow (Wednesday 4th July) at 9am CEST, which is 8am British “Summer” Time.  Here’s a bit of the press release:

CERN will hold a scientific seminar at 9:00 CEST on 4 July to deliver the latest update in the search for the Higgs boson. At this seminar, coming on the eve of this year’s major particle physics conference, ICHEP, in Melbourne, the ATLAS and CMS experiments will deliver the preliminary results of their 2012 data analysis.

“Data taking for ICHEP concluded on Monday 18 June after a very successful first period of LHC running in 2012,” said CERN’s Director for Accelerators and Technology, Steve Myers. “I’m very much looking forward to seeing what the data reveals.”

The 2012 LHC run schedule was designed to deliver the maximum possible quantity of data to the experiments before the ICHEP conference, and with more data delivered between April and June 2012 than in the whole 2011 run, the strategy has been a success. Furthermore, the experiments have been refining their analysis techniques to improve their efficiency in picking out Higgs-like events from the millions of collisions occurring every second. This means that their sensitivity to new phenomena has significantly increased for both years’ data sets.  The crunching of all this data has been done by the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid, which has exceeded its design specifications to handle the unprecedented volume of data and computing.

“We now have more than double the data we had last year,” said CERN Director for Research and Computing, Sergio Bertolucci, “that should be enough to see whether the trends we were seeing in the 2011 data are still there, or whether they’ve gone away. It’s a very exciting time.”

I won’t try to repeat what’s been said better and more authoritatively elsewhere; a nice collection of video material at the STFC website and a piece by Sean Carroll (also here) are worth mentioning if you’re not up on why the Higgs Boson is so important.

I wrote  a rather facetious post about the last episode of Higgs-mania way back in December because I found the actual announcement to be a bit of a damp squib and the associated hype rather irritating. This time there are even more rumours flying around – not to everyone’s approval – but it’s obviously best to wait and see what is actually announced rather than comment on them.

The main question in my mind is whether it’s sufficiently interesting to get up in time to watch the seminar 8am tomorrow morning…

Brian Cox is 44.

The Higgs Buzz

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on June 19, 2012 by telescoper

Reaction to rumours about the Higgs, and a not-entirely good-tempered comment thread about the ethics of blogging. All in a day’s work for a particle physicist, I guess! Read the inside story on this post…

..and if you read this article you’ll see where the rumour originated.

Of Particular Significance

The rumors about the Higgs particle at the Large Hadron Collider [LHC] have begun again, and since that’s all anyone is going to want to talk about until we actually get the news for real, at the ICHEP conference in Melbourne in a couple of weeks, we may as well get started.

[This is especially true since we learned last year that some well-known non-particle-physicist bloggers have information pipelines directly into the experiments.  It is perhaps inevitable that there are scientists who see it in their best interest to subvert the scientific process.]

The current hot rumor is that the LHC experiments ATLAS and CMS have seen, in the new 2012 data, very roughly what they saw last December in the 2011 data, at least as far as the signal from a Higgs decaying to two photons (particles of light) in the mass range of 125 GeV/c2

View original post 1,101 more words

Higgs-mania Day

Posted in Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on December 13, 2011 by telescoper

I woke up this morning to the BBC Radio News at 7am announcing that scientists at CERN were going to report “hints” of the discovery of the Higgs Boson at the Large Hadron Collider;  you can find a longer discussion by the BBC here. This was later accompanied by articles tackling the important questions of the day such as whether the discovery of the Higgs would justify the enormous expense of Brian Cox the LHC.

Prize for the most  inaccurate science report goes to  the Daily Fail:

‘God’ particle found:

Atom smasher reveals Higgs boson, the key to the universe

Evidence soon emerged however that this particular squib might be of the damp variety. Consistent with previous blogospheric pronouncements, a paper on the arXiv this morning suggested no convincing detection of the Higgs had actually been made by the ATLAS experiment.

I then had to make an important choice between watching the live webcast of the CERN seminar at which detailed information on the Higgs searches was to be presented or to accept a free lunch with the examiners of a PhD candidate. I chose the latter.

Catching up on events after lunch confirmed the underwhelming nature of the Higgs “detection”, but with some intriguing evidence an excess signal at around 126 GeV at the 2.3 sigma level, in the frequentist parlance favoured by particle physicists and others who don’t know how to do statistics properly. In the words of the late John Bahcall:  “half of all three-sigma detections are false“. Of course if they used proper Bayesian language, scientists wouldn’t make so many nonsensical statements. Personally, I just don’t do sigmas.

My attention then switched to the CMS experiment. As a point of information you should be aware that CMS stands for Compact Muon Solenoid, where “compact” is a word used by particle physicists to mean “fucking enormous”. CMS makes  pictures like this:

Anyway, it seems from the CMS part of the presentation that they find a bit of a peak at a similar mass ~ 125 GeV but spread out over a larger range, this time at a level of – sigh – 2.6 sigma.

All in all, it’s a definite maybe. Putting the results together in the way only a frequentist can the result is a 2.4 sigma detection. In other words,  nothing any serious scientist would call convincing.

It’s interesting how certain these particle physicists are that the Higgs actually exists. It might, of course, and I think these results may be pointing the way to more convincing evidence based on more data. However,  I still think we should bear in mind the words of Alfred North Whitehead:

There is no more common error than to assume that, because prolonged and accurate mathematical calculations have been made, the application of the result to some fact of nature is absolutely certain.

If there is a Higgs boson with a mass of 125 GeV then that would of course be an exciting discovery, but if there isn’t one at all wouldn’t that be even more exciting?

Final word from the Director of CERN:

We have not found it yet, we have not excluded it yet, stay tuned for next year.

Thunder and hail descended on Cardiff just as the webcast finished, which is clearly not a coincidence although I couldn’t say how many sigmas were involved.

And a final, final word from the Chief Executive of the Science & Technology Facilities Council, John Womersley:

There is still some way to go before the existence of the Higgs boson can be confirmed or not, but excitement is mounting. UK physicists and engineers have played a significant role in securing today’s results, and will continue to be at the forefront of exploring the new frontiers of knowledge opened by the results coming from the LHC. This is an incredibly exciting time to be involved in physics!

Brian Cox is 43.

Experiments and Observations

Posted in Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on May 8, 2010 by telescoper

It’s nice to be able to pass on some upbeat news for once.

The first thing is that, after a lot of delays and a bit of haggling, the School of Physics & Astronomy at Cardiff University has finally issued advertisements for a bunch of new Faculty positions in Experimental Physics. The positions, which are tenured,  involve both Chair and Lecturer/Reader levels and there are several positions available. The School and University  have  put together a handsome start-up package for a new group and there’s plenty of spanking new experimental laboratory space to set up shop. Coupled with the fact that Cardiff is a great city to live in, with low costs and great sporting and cultural infrastructure, this should prove a tempting opportunity for someone to set up their own group.

It’s also a welcome vote of confidence from Cardiff University which, despite cuts in its overall budget, has decided to invest heavily in the School’s strategic plan. I hope and believe we’ll attract a strong field for these appointments and look forward to seeing what develops. We need a shot in the arm and this might just deliver it.

What’s particularly interesting about this clutch of new appointments is that they are open to people working in any area of physics, with the exception of astrophysics. Given the massive cuts in STFC’s budget, this is no time to be expanding in areas covered by its remit. I say that as an astrophysicist, with considerable regret but pragmatism in the face of the changing landscape of British science funding. In times of risk you have to broaden your portfolio. However, that’s not to say that astrophysics at Cardiff is downbeat. Far from it, in fact.

ESA held an international press conference to present exciting new results from the Herschel Observatory at the European Space Research and Technology Centre, Noordwijk, The Netherlands, on Thursday 6 May. A webcast of the press conference with Cardiff’s Professors Matt Griffin and Steve Eales taking part, can be seen at from At the conference Steve Eales talked about the latest results from the Herschel ATLAS survey: an ATLAS of the Universe. ATLAS will cover one eightieth of the sky, four times larger than all the other Herschel surveys combined and is led by Professor Eales and Dr Loretta Dunne at Nottingham University.

Herschel ATLAS has measured the infrared light from thousands of galaxies, spread across billions of light-years. Each galaxy appears as just a pinprick but its brightness allows astronomers to determine how quickly it is forming stars. Roughly speaking, the brighter the galaxy the more stars it is forming. The Herschel images show that in the past there were many more galaxies forming stars much faster than our own Galaxy. But what triggered this frantic activity is not completely understood. Steve Eales said

every time astronomers have observed the universe in a new waveband, they have discovered something new. So as well as our regular science programmes, I am hoping for the unexpected.

I am hoping to get involved with the ATLAS data myself at some point as I am formally a member of the consortium, but I’ve been too busy doing other things to get involved in these initial stages so am not on any of the preliminary science papers. I hope I can get properly involved in this project sooner rather than later…

The ATLAS survey, image courtesy of ESA and the ATLAS consortium

The full press release also includes surprises on how stars are formed including work carried out by Cardiff’s Professor Derek Ward-Thompson. Herschel’s star formation surveys are beginning to reveal the mysteries behind how massive stars are created.

Pix Mix

Posted in Columbo, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on March 7, 2010 by telescoper

I just remembered that while I was at CERN last week I took a few crummy pics with my phone, so I thought I’d stick them on here.

This first one is actually of the control room of the ATLAS experiment, but it looked to me rather like the inside of a betting shop.

These two were taken in the facility where they test the magnets for the Large Hadron Collider. Each section of superconducting thingummyjig is about 10 metres long; the whole thing is 27km long so that’s a lot of sections! Although the magnets carry a huge current – 10,000 Amps – since they’re superconducting they have no resistance and therefore dissipate no power. However, they have to be kept at liquid helium temperatures, which does require quite a lot of power.

I like the sign on the second one: RISK OF LIQUID AIR.

Finally, here’s the most important one. While I am away Columbo is looked after by a lady called Helen who sends me daily updates. Here is Columbo in a characteristic pose.

Feed me. Feed me NOW!

Astronomy (and Particle Physics) Look-alikes, No. 10

Posted in Astronomy Lookalikes, Opera, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on January 23, 2010 by telescoper

I was struck by the similarity between the design of the  ATLAS detector, at the Large Hadron Collider in CERN, and that of a recent production of Les Troyens by Hector Berlioz  in Valencia, Spain. How’s that for cultural impact?

Pity it had to be this Opera though. I hate it. Somebody should do a similar thing with the Magic Flute, which is actually all about particle physics


Posted in Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on September 10, 2009 by telescoper

I’ve just noticed a  post on another blog about the  meeting of the Herschel ATLAS consortium that’s  going on in Cardiff at the moment, so I thought I’d do a quickie here too. Actually I’ve only just been accepted into the Consortium so quite a lot of the goings-on are quite new to me.

The Herschel ATLAS (or H-ATLAS for short) is the largest open-time key project involving Herschel. It has been awarded 600 hours of observing time  to survey 550 square degrees of sky in 5 wavelenth bands: 110, 170, 250, 350, & 500 microns. It is hoped to detect approximately 250,000 galaxies,  most of them in the nearby Universe, but some will undoubtedly turn out to be very distant, with redshifts of 3 to 4; these are likely to be very interesting for  studies of galaxy evolution.

Herschel is currently in its performance verification (PV) phase, following which there will be a period of science validation (SV). During the latter the ATLAS team will have access to some observational data to have a quick look to see that it’s  behaving as anticipated. It is planned to publish a special issue of the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics next year that will contain key results from the SV phase, although in the case of ATLAS many of these will probably be quite preliminary because only a small part of the survey area will be sampled during the SV time.

Herschel seems to be doing fine, with the possible exception of the HIFI instrument which is currently switched off owing to a fault in its power supply. There is a backup, but the ESA boffins don’t want to switch it back on and risk further complications until they know why it failed in the first place. The problem with HIFI has led to some rejigging of the schedule for calibrating and testing the other two instruments (SPIRE and PACS) but both of these are otherwise doing well.

The data for H-ATLAS proper hasn’t started arriving yet so the meeting here in Cardiff was intended to sort out the preparations, plan who’s going to do what, and sort out some organisational issues. With well over a hundred members, this project has to think seriously about quite a lot of administrative and logistical matters.

One of the things that struck me as particular difficult is the issue of authorship of science papers. In observational astronomy and cosmology we’re now getting used to the situation that has prevailed in experimental particle physics for some time, namely that even short papers have author lists running into the hundreds. Theorists like me usually work in teams too, but our author lists are, generally speaking, much shorter. In fact I don’t have any publications  yet with more than six or seven authors; mine are often just by me and a PhD student or postdoc.

In a big consortium, the big issue is not so much who to include, but how to give appropriate credit to the different levels of contribution. Those senior scientists who organized and managed the survey are clearly key to its success, but so also are those who work at the coalface and are probably much more junior. In between there are individuals who supply bits and pieces of specialist software or extra comparison data. Nobody can pretend that everyone in a list of 100 authors has made an identical contribution, but how can you measure the differences and how can you indicate them on a publication? Or  shouldn’t you try?

Some suggest that author lists should always be alphabetical, which is fine if you’re “Aarseth” but not if you’re “Zel’dovich”. This policy would, however, benefit “al”, a prolific collaborator who never seems to make it as first author..

When astronomers write grant applications for STFC one of the pieces of information they have to include is a table summarising their publication statistics. The total number of papers written has  to be given, as well as the number in which the applicant  is  the first author on the list,  the implicit assumption being that first authors did more work than the others or that first authors were “leading” the work in some sense.

Since I have a permanent job and  students and postdocs don’t, I always make junior collaborators  first author by default and only vary that policy if there is a specific reason not to. In most cases they have done the lion’s share of the actual work anyway, but even if this is not the case it is  important for them to have first author papers given the widespread presumption that this is a good thing to have on a CV.

With more than 100 authors, and a large number of  collaborators vying for position, the chances are that junior people will just get buried somewhere down the author list unless there is an active policy to protect their interests.

Of course everyone making a significant contribution to a discovery has to be credited, and the metric that has been used for many years to measure scientific productivity is the numbered of authored publications, but it does seem to me that this system must have reached breaking point when author lists run to several pages!

It was all a lot easier in the good old days when there was no data…

PS. Atlas was a titan who was forced to hold the sky  on his shoulders for all eternity. I hope this isn’t expected of members of the ATLAS consortium, none of who are titans anyway (as far as I can tell). The plural of Atlas is Atlantes, by the way.