UK News from CERN Issue 73

 

Issue 73 contents

Sniffer dog

Inventing an electronic sniffer dog

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The perfect security screening system is sensitive, unobtrusive, accurate, and not distracted by sausages.

A heavy ion collision in ATLAS

Physics at the festivals

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The LHC will be face-to-face with the Lovell telescope at Jodrell Bank this summer.

John Steel

Auditory nerve

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There’s a level of risk associated with innovation.

Sophia’s portrait of John Ellis

Snap decision

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CERN’s Technician Training Experience is all about gaining professional experience in an international environment.

Microcosm

Bringing schools to CERN

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Get the most out of your school visit with STFC’s new resource portal.


 

Inventing an electronic sniffer dog

Sniffer dog

Sniffer dog
"Mmm, sausages"
(Credit: The U.S. Army)

 

The perfect security screening system is sensitive, unobtrusive, accurate, and not distracted by sausages.

Using technology originally developed to capture LHC collisions, the University of Liverpool is developing a prototype mass spectrometer which has the potential to make air travel safer without lengthening the queues at airport security checks.

‘Cheaper, smaller, better’ is the constant refrain from innovators, but in this case, project lead Joost Vossebeld (ATLAS) is justified in making these claims; the mass spectrometer that his team is developing is half the size of products already in the market that offer similar performance, and a third of the cost. Liverpool’s new device combines fast read-out silicon detectors with mass spectrometry – the resulting machine can detect single ions from a sample of illegal drugs or explosive material.

At present, airports rely on a combination of security service intelligence, random checks and sniffer dogs. “Efficiency is everything in an airport,” explains Joost. “We’ve developed an ‘electronic sniffer dog’ based on the very high data rates and very fine position measurements of LHC detectors. Unlike a real sniffer dog, this is an always-on detection system which can’t be distracted.”

The initial aim is to bring a product to market which would be used within the passenger screening areas. At present, if your bag is selected for a random check, swabs will be taken and placed in a machine about the size of a laser printer. Liverpool’s device will be half the size and deliver a much improved sensitivity at a cost of around £30K. Ultimately, the technology could be incorporated into the ‘walk-through’ metal detector arches for passengers, or monitor the baggage management services that transport suitcases and bags from check-in to the plane.

The prototype was developed with £60K from the STFC Global Challenge Fund but the technology has its roots firmly in the ATLAS experiment at CERN. With 600 million collisions happening every second, fast readout sensors are essential to capture what is happening in each collision, and this is Joost’s area of expertise. He joined the ATLAS collaboration in 2001 to work on construction of the Strip Tracker and although he’s still involved in the operation of the tracker, and analysis of data collected by it, he’s also involved with developing the next generation of sensor technology for particle tracking. These are the sensors that could be used in the HL-LHC upgrade and other future particle physics projects.

Joost and his colleagues are entering a critical phase with the project. “This summer we need to optimise the readout technology for the device and do more measurements of low energy ions with the sensor.” He believes that it will take another year to have the device market-ready.

Some scientists see a tension between fundamental and applied science but as Joost puts it, “we’re sitting on technology that has a lot of potential, and it’s fun to push your technology into other areas. The biggest challenge is finding the time to do everything!”

Read more about technology developed by the Physics department at the University of Liverpool here.

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Physics at the festivals

A heavy ion collision in ATLAS

A heavy ion collision in ATLAS
(Credit: ATLAS/CERN)

 

The LHC will be face-to-face with the Lovell telescope at Jodrell Bank this summer, and, for the very first time, there will be a physics pavilion to excite and inspire WOMAD festival goers.

“WOMAD has a ready-made audience with a curious and open mind,” says physics pavilion curator Roger Jones (Lancaster and ATLAS). Working with Connie Potter (CERN) and support from Institute of Physics, CERN and STFC, he’s put together a packed programme that includes everything from science fact to science fiction; there will be time travel, black holes, Dr Who, Higgs bosons and the chance to build your own cosmic ray detector. You can even borrow a physicist from the human library! WOMAD takes place at Charlton Park, Wiltshire from 28-31 July.

At Jodrell Bank’s Blue Dot festival, you can go right inside the LHC tunnel with PhD students and researchers from CERN experiments as your guides. They’ll introduce you to the world’s largest particle accelerator and explain how they’re using it to solve the mysteries of Dark Matter, including the search for Supersymmetry and getting to the bottom of the differences between matter and antimatter. The festival takes place from 22-24 July.

Both festivals will also include performances from CERN’s Cosmic Piano, a cosmic ray detector that turns interactions into sound and light. The Cosmic Piano will be jamming with Jazz pianist, Al Blatter to bring the music of physics to a wider audience.

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Auditory nerve

John Steel

John Steel
(Credit: John Steel)

 

Auditors are special. Their combination of forensic skills, diplomacy and neutrality enable organisations to deliver continuous improvement. Scientific breakthroughs and technical innovation – essential elements of CERN’s ongoing success - stem from creativity, free expression and experimentation. There’s a level of risk associated with innovation and it’s the Internal Audit team that are tasked with helping CERN to manage that risk.

John Steel is the newly-appointed Head of Internal Audit. He first joined CERN as an accountant in 1992, before moving across to the CERN Pension Fund as Chief Operating Officer. Having been on the receiving end of regular audits for 30 years, he’s bringing this experience to his new role.

“My predecessor worked hard to ensure that CERN’s internal audit processes meet recognised international standards,” says John. “It’s important that Member States have confidence in the way we work.”

Each internal audit is part of a wider, three-year audit plan which is signed off by the CERN Director General.

A typical audit will review the working practices and procedures used in a Department. For the auditors, having excellent interviewing skills and being a good listener are essential. The team will gather information and make observations to identify potential risks, see what internal controls are in place to mitigate those risks, and assess their effectiveness. Where the team needs specialist expertise, they can call on colleagues from other Departments at CERN, or even from outside, to participate in the audit.

John recognises that reviews are not always popular, and one of his personal objectives in his new role is to strengthen Internal Audit’s role as a management tool. The most important part of any audit is the recommendations for improvement and John wants the team to focus on the recommendations that really matter. “Our recommendations need to be pragmatic and deliverable! The Internal Audit team is small so we need to focus on higher priority issues.”

Whilst making recommendations is important, they need to be implemented if you want to see change. “Since I joined the team in January, we’ve been having a big push to close recommendations made in earlier audits,” explains John. “We’re working closely with Department managers to show that addressing the findings of an audit will have demonstrable benefits.”

An inevitable consequence of taking on a role that works across all of CERN’s departments is that John is learning more about the research programme, engineering projects and technology development. He may have been at CERN for more than 20 years, but his enthusiasm is clearly undiminished. “It’s a pretty remarkable place! We take working with some many different nationalities for granted, but most people have never worked in such an international environment. Living and working here has brought a whole new dimension to my life and that of my family.”

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Snap decision

John Ellis

Sophia’s portrait of John Ellis for ‘In Theory’, an introduction to CERN’s Theory Department
(Credit: S Bennett/CERN)

 

CERN’s Technician Training Experience is all about gaining professional experience in an international environment. Previously UKNFC has met several UK Fellows on the scheme who have been working in engineering and radiation protection. The latest recruit has a very different set of technical skills.

Sophia Bennett has joined CERN’s Visual Media team as a photographer. She first visited CERN in Spring 2015 to see a friend who was working as an intern. She was captivated by the atmosphere, the people, and what she saw. But she didn’t know very much about the organisation.

That changed when her friend spotted a vacancy for a photographer. “I was still at uni with four months to go,” she explains, “I didn’t tell anyone that I had applied…”

Her application was successful, and having completed her HND in photography, Sophia joined CERN in September 2015. Although she had worked on projects as a volunteer, this is her first professional job. She’s already learnt a lot, and gained confidence.

“I’d never done any corporate photography, and the VIP visits were especially daunting; there might only be a second to get the handshake shot with the logo in the right place in the background. At first I was terrified! I’ve learnt that I can blend into the visit and get the shot, without being too self-conscious.”

Getting a balance between her own creative ideas and the need to deliver what is required has been a challenge. “It’s easier to photograph people working – that’s more my style –but the job has made me take on shoots I wouldn’t have considered before; it’s given me confidence in my ability to deliver.”

The TTE scheme offers newly qualified technicians like Sophia up to two years’ experience in an international environment, working alongside experienced colleagues. The professional development opportunities are second to none.

Long-term, Sophia’s ambition is to work for Magnum, the international photojournalism cooperative, and CERN provides an excellent environment in which to hone the professional and creative skills that will help her achieve that goal.

And her advice to others thinking of joining the scheme? “You’d be crazy not to apply.”

The deadline for the next round of applications is 31 October.

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Bringing schools to CERN

Microcosm

Microcosm
(Credit: CERN)

 

Get the most out of your school visit with STFC’s new resource portal.

More than 450 UK schools visit CERN every year, and to help teachers plan the visit and prepare their students, we’ve brought together lots of practical information with a UK focus. There are some great ideas for extending the visit with other STEM activities in Geneva and the surrounding area, as well as tips about accommodation, travel and which currency to bring.

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