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The say of the week March 19, 2009

Posted by dorigo in games, humor, internet, italian blogs, physics, science.
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Questi c’hanno sistematici che fanno provincia

[These fellas have got county-wide systematics]

(Xisy, from a comment in M.Dal Mastro’s blog)

Think as an experimental particle physicist: results! February 27, 2009

Posted by dorigo in games, humor, physics, science.
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I know you are impatient, and the weekend is coming, so while I still hope more of you will leave their results in the comments thread, I give below the key to compute the score of the two-part test I offered in the two previous posts. Each answer has from zero to three of the following symbols: E,T,S,C,D. Just sum each category for now:


Think like an experimental particle physicist – second (and last) part February 27, 2009

Posted by dorigo in games, humor, physics, science.
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While putting together the scores to evaluate the answers to the 11 questions of the previous post, I realized that they are not enough for a fair classification. So here are a few more quizzes for those of you who found my effort worth paying back with five more minutes of your time.

  • K) You are found in the library of your Department. Why was that ?
  1. Why, I had an hour to kill…
  2. I am just checking out the new librarian (he/she’s cute).
  3. They told me there are coupons to cut away for free radioactive samples on this month’s issue of Physics Today.
  4. They threatened to expel me if I did not bring back the overdue copy of DH. Perkins’ book.
  • L) How much is 87 times 945 ?
  1. About 80 thousand.
  2. About 82 thousand.
  3. I left my pocket calculator in the office upstairs.
  4. (after a minute)  82,215  (ignore my fast breathing).
  5. 82 215 (mind the space -I take pride in following AIP style rules!).
  6. More or less 10^5.
  • M) The mean-looking airport cop finds an electronic board wrapped in a sweater in your carry-on.
  1. You go back to the check-in counter: you came early on purpose.
  2. You try to explain it is innocuous HEP hardware.
  3. You manage to power it up by fiddling with the laptop power cord to show the two-digit LCD mounted on it does come alive.
  4. You start arguing that the sign with red crosses on lighters, firearms and batteries mentions nothing even vaguely resembling a CAMAC module.
  5. You let them dump it, too bad for science -and whoever uses CAMAC nowadays, after all.
  • N) Your paper draft receives really nasty comments from your collaborators
  1. You write down the names of the bad guys on your small red booklet in the bottom drawer – their time in front of the muzzle will come one day!
  2. You answer in kinds on a rage, with carbon-copy to the spokespersons, making a fool of yourself.
  3. You answer as politely as you can in a very detailed manner, cursing yourself softly while you feel like you’ve bent over.
  4. You decide the paper really is not worth that much and forget about it for a month or two.
  • O) After your presentation is over,  the session convener asks a tough question and you do not even know what he or she is talking about.
  1. You say you do not know the answer and display your best smile, hiding the sweating.
  2. You repeatedly pretend you did not understand the sentence until he or she decides it’s time to move on.
  3. You think it wasn’t such a good idea to grab that last-minute chance for a plenary talk.
  4. You go to a random back-up slide and discuss it in detail for five minutes, trying to look meaningful.
  • P) A science reporter calls and asks you information on the  hunt for supersymmetry.
  1. You feel flattered, get carried away, and end up disclosing reserved information from your experiment.
  2. You direct him or her to the experiment spokespersons.
  3. You pretend you’re the switchboard operator.
  4. You ask what magazine is that for, and after hearing it’s “New Scientist” you hang up.
  • Q) They sent you a paper to be reviewed. It sucks big time.
  1. Feeling true to your duties, you implacably point out each and every imperfection with rigor and an occasional bit of sadism.
  2. You reckon nobody’s going to read the paper anyway, so you send back two lines saying the paper looks ok but would they please use AIP style rules ?
  3. You are fought between your duties and your compassion for the poor post-doc who did most of the work  to get the paper to your desk, and try to balance the two things, ending up screwing both -the author feels raped and the paper does not get any better from your review.
  4. You would never accept to get into an editorial board, it’s just such a waste of research time.
  • R) You are on owl shift and your colleagues are out of the room for coffee and cookies, when every screen turns red, alarms sound, and an ominous-looking warning sign start flashing on the silicon cooling contol panel.
  1. You run to the silicon crash button and press it.
  2. You silence all alarms and fetch the emergency procedures folder, then start reading it
  3. You rush to call your colleagues.
  4. You sneak out, join your colleagues and serve yourself a coffee, then look over the glass door and mention there appears to be  something flashing inside as if you just noticed it.
  • S) You feel you think like an experimental particle physicist because…
  1. You do not work in HEP, but at least one answer in each of the 19 questions above made a lot of sense to you
  2. You read this blog and you think it really does not take much to be a HEP physicist.
  3. You are a theorist and although you have trouble with practicalities you think experimentalists have similar thinking processes.
  4. You are a scientist from another field and you know how to tie your shoes.
  5. You are a scientist from another field and you wear sandals.
  6. You are sure you do not think like an experimental particle physicist in the least.

Think like an experimental particle physicist! February 26, 2009

Posted by dorigo in games, humor, physics, science.
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In my ongoing effort to convince my readers that experimental high-energy physics is easy and fun, and to make it more appealing to everybody, I am presenting you with a small test, which should measure your ability to think as an experimental particle physicist. These questions  should be enough to sketch your profile as a HEP worker. You are invited to use five minutes of your time to give your answers in the comments thread below. I will provide results in a couple of days.

  • A) You need to insert in your analysis code the width of the Z boson. What do you do ?
  1. you google “Z boson width”
  2. you go to pdg.lbl.gov and download the Z boson table
  3. you dig under a pile of preprints for your copy of the PDG booklet
  4. you write “=1.0; // REVISE: Z boson width!!! ” and leave it to a better day
  • B) What is the muon mass ?
  1. 0.105658367 GeV
  2. 0.105658367 GeV/c^2, silly you
  3. 105.658367 MeV/c^2
  4. 0.1134289256 u
  5. “sqrt(0.01116369);” which is a number you retrieved from an old piece of code
  6. about 100 MeV, give or take a few
  • C) How does the Higgs boson decay to a pair of photons ?
  1. by first splitting into a pair of top quarks
  2. by first splitting into a fermion loop
  3. by first splitting into a pair of W bosons
  4. it cannot, the Higgs is not electrically charged
  • D) A primary cosmic ray with an energy of 10^17 eV hits the atmosphere. It is determined to be a neutron.
  1. it must come from inside our galaxy
  2. it is a Nobel prize winning discovery
  3. it produces a shower like a proton would
  4. all of the above
  5. all of the above except 1.
  6. all of the above except 2.
  • E) A detector is being decommissioned and is being taken apart at a facility near your office.
  1. you wear a surgical mask when you walk by -activated powder might be dangerous
  2. you drop by and try to scavenge a gadget or two
  3. you mail the ex-spokesperson to ask for those yellowed scintillator planes
  • F) The code won’t compile…
  1. you check the error messages carefully
  2. you try it on a different account
  3. you hit the “save” button on your editor again and retry
  4. you go to the coffee machine and ponder
  • G) You are scheduled to talk at a conference, on a topic that is not your own
  1. you start reading material one month before
  2. you start looking for slides on the same topic a week before
  3. you email the authors of the relevant analyses for help four days before
  • H) You are on day shift at your experiment next October. What is your main worry right now ?
  1. Get on par with the latest safety procedures and make sure your training has not expired
  2. Find a substitute for that week for your course of the first semester
  3. Find the cheapest flight early on
  4. Look for entertainment options for all those evenings
  • I) You walk by a colleague’s desk in the evening and find out he’s not logged off his account.
  1. you use his email to send himself a reminder
  2. you log him off
  3. you notify the sys admin
  4. you open his mozilla browser to a porn web page
  5. you go back to your own desk, remembering you did not log off either
  • J) A histogram of the invariant mass of jet pairs  in events containing just two energetic jets shows a compelling peak at 120 GeV.
  1. It’s the higgs!
  2. It is a statistical fluctuation
  3. It is a bug in your code
  4. This was a sample of Z boson decays to electron-positron pairs, and those are electrons corrected as if they were jets
  • K) What does a significance of three sigma mean ? Four sigma ? Five sigma ?
  1. something not so rare; something quite rare; something exceptionally rare.
  2. evidence of some new phenomenon; strong evidence of same; observation of new physics!
  3. evidence of something fishy;  a bug in the code; a horrible bug in the code.