Image: An ATLAS event with 2 muons and 2 electrons. The two muons are picked out as long blue tracks, the two electrons as short blue tracks matching green clusters of energy in the calorimeters which lie outside the inner tracking detector. Credit: ATLAS Collaboration

What is Particle Physics?

Particle physics is the study of the most elementary constituents of matter — the building blocks of our universe. Physicists have created a theory that describes these interactions to a very high level of accuracy. This theory involves 12 particles of matter, and 3 of the 4 forces in Nature. This theory is the standard model of particle physics. To quote my colleague, Claire Lee, "to fully understand the whole we need to know and understand the parts." Particle physics is humanity's attempt to understand the whole Universe.

More to come on this...

Why should I (a member of the public) care?

Do you like medical technology like MRI scanners and cancer treatment? Do you like the Internet ( you're reading this)? Do you like your borders to be safe from nuclear proliferation? Do you like to live in a society that benefits economically from technology and basic research? All of these things are thanks to particle physics! Read this great article by the US Department of Energy to learn more!

What does a particle physicist do?

As an experimental particle physicist I spend most of my time tying very hard to turn coffee into code that outputs something resembling science (to 1st order). Seriously though, as an experimentalist I have many "hats". We consult with our theory colleagues on smarter ways to hunt for new physics. We collaborate with engineers on designing and then building new and improved particle detectors. We also work with a few thousand of our closest colleagues to write code that applies statistical data analysis in clever ways to probe and search the data for any new physics that might be hiding in them. Our job is diverse and difficult, but always exciting!

How does a particle accelerator work?

I'm so glad you asked! The US Department of Energy has a wonderful infographic you should check out. You should also watch CERN's video "The Bottle to Bang" which walks through how the LHC beam lines work and how the proton beams get to high enough energies to be used to discover new physics.

Where can I learn more about physics?

There are lots of excellent resources for the curious member of the public wishing to learn more about physics. Here is a short list for some of my favorites on the internet.

What does a particle physicist have in their pockets/bag?

I try to keep things pretty functional and only have the things I know I'm going to use on a daily basis

  • Pockets

    • 0.5 mm tip black pen

    • Field Notes 5 mm graph paper memo book (for notes and back of envelope calculations)

    • KeySmart

    • smartphone (with OmniFocus installed)

    • handkerchief

  • Bag

    • laptop (running Ubuntu Linux) and power cords

    • tablet with Mendeley and Papers (for reading/finding papers) and GoodReader (for text books) installed

    • assorted data and power cables

    • headphones

    • the PDG pocket handbook

    • yellow legal pad (for calculations)

  • Hands

    • Coffee

What are the tools that enable you to do science?

As an experimental particle physicist most of my tools are software, and almost all of it is open source.

Why haven't you answered my email?

I only check email if I am going to take the time to read and deal with all the unread email in my inbox. This happens only a few times a day. My job is to try and contribute to scientific research, not get dopamine spikes from checking my inbox. If you haven't heard back from me within 48 hours, send your email again. If you're a student of mine and you haven't heard back from me within 24 hours, send your email again.

Do you identify with any webcomics?

Probably these to some extent: