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Eyewitness to the CERN Experiments

Finally, BU grad student can study those colliding particles

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In late November, the Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva had its first successful test since scaring the world when the “on” switch was flipped back in September 2008. Contrary to doomsday predictions, collisions of proton beams in the LHC at CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), an international physics research center also known as the European Organization for Nuclear Research, have not caused the end of the world.

They have caused a stir among physicists, many of whom would consider Jeremy Love (GRS’08,’10) a very lucky doctoral student; he has been working at CERN since July 2008, and has witnessed the switching on, switching off, and switching back on of the LHC.

The goal of the collider is to create physical environments resembling conditions that might have existed before the Big Bang, the theoretical birth of the universe. To do this, atoms are injected into a gigantic tunnel, accelerated around its 27-mile circular path, and smashed into one another. The recent test signals the first successful smash.

Love, part of a team of BU physicists attached to the ATLAS experiment (A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS), uses a sports metaphor to explain the test. “It’s like being an NFL prospect,” he says. “The first step is to get drafted and be ‘injected,’ then you need to sign a contract and become ‘stable,’ then in practice you start colliding and hitting people.”

Love works on ATLAS, one of six gigantic machines placed within the LHC tunnel that gather collision data. Given the false start last year, working on ATLAS has been a lot quieter than Love expected, until now.

“For me the delay was a good opportunity,” he says. “I got experience working down in the ATLAS experimental cavern on the detector, which would have been impossible if the LHC had started successfully.”

Love’s goal, attaining his doctorate, has been held out of reach: until now, there has been no data for him to analyze. He stays positive, however. “CERN is still a really exciting place to work,” he says. “Right now it’s where all the focus of the field is. There are still questions that will only be answered here, and there is a new challenge every day.”

Devin Hahn can be reached at dhahn@bu.edu.

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