Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Week 2: Experimental Physics !

In the second week the focus moved from theoretical to experimental physics. I was lucky enough to participate in this second week in two ways: both in helping to design the lecture program and contributing two lectures. We had lectures on a wide range of topics from statistical techniques, through b-physics to neutrinos and physics beyond the Standard Model. It was definitely exciting seeing the program that we had designed coming to life!

I gave two sets of the lectures: the first introduced the students to some of the wide range of Standard Model physics measurements made at hadron colliders, particularly by ATLAS and CMS.  I always take particular pleasure in opportunities to explain to students how the discovery of the Higgs boson actually happened. We also discussed in some detail about exactly we go about measuring a cross-section plus the challenges needed to make a difficult measurement like the mass of the W boson.

The second set of lectures proved to be somewhat more challenging. The idea was to run a set of ROOT tutorials for the students to give them a flavour of how this program is used for data analysis. The slight difficulty that we encountered was trying to get ROOT set up on the computers used by the students. Coupled with limitations to download speed and processing power, we ended up needing to postpone the tutorials until late in the week. Luckily many of the other lecturers were able to be extremely flexible and willing to move their lectures with very little notice ! However, in the end, all came together and the students and I had a lot of fun, and quite a few laughs, as we explored histograms, trees and files.

We definitely saw a large benefit from the Linux bootcamp that had been held during the first week of the school. As a result, the students were already quite familiar with the Linux operating system and able to use terminals with confidence. This meant that we were far more quickly able to get started with the ROOT tutorials than in previous iterations of the school. Definitely something to be repeated!

One of my favourite aspects of these schools are the lunch breaks. I try to sit down more or less and random to get the opportunity to meet and chat to as many different students as possible. Sometimes the conversations are in English, sometimes in French and most often in a mixture of languages. This time I manage have to have lunch with students from Nigeria, Ghana, Madagascar, Iran, Morocco and South Africa amongst many others and enjoyed many interesting conversations.

The second week also included a poster session. I managed to have a look at about 15 of the posters and I was really impressed by the quality of both the research and the posters that were presented. It was also nice to take a break from lecturing and instead be the one learning as the students explained their research to me. The posters ranged in topics from condensed matter physics to applications of Geant4 and searches for new states decaying to pairs of Higgs bosons. Certainly very impressive!

On Friday evening I was very sad to be leaving the school and taking the plane back to Europe. It was a great pleasure to participate, yet again, in this wonderful school, which brings together students studying physics, in interesting locations throughout Africa.

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