is pushed for time today, sorry!
Elliott school 1989-1992, Pimlico school 1993
2001-2009: University College London (Physics)
Experimental Particle Physics
I smash particles together and see what happens.
There are two kinds of physicist: theorists and experimentalists. Theorists spend most of their time doing very hard sums and experimentalists invent ways to test the theories. I am an experimentalist. Occasionally someone is born who is very good at both theory and experiment, but this is very rare..
The experiment I work on is called the ATLAS detector. It is made from lots of concentric cylinders of different materials. The smallest cylinder is about the size of a drainpipe and made of silicon, the largest is about the size of a large church and made from chambers filled with gas and electronics.
The reasonfor the cylindrical shape of the detector is that it is positioned around a beam pipe through which particles hurtle in each direction at around a billion km per hour. The particles, called protons, are forced into each other’s paths right in the center of the detector, creating an almighty collision and spraying debris out into the detector.
Like all experiments, the ATLAS detector was built to test theories. The way we test theories is to try our very best to prove them wrong. Those theories that survive every test we can think up are the ones that are taken seriously.
The theory I am interested in testing with the ATLAS detector is called the Higgs mechanism. This was first thought of by a theorist named Peter Higgs, around 40 years ago. It is a possible explanation for the way the universe has evolved into what we see today, with galaxies, stars and planets. We need an explanation for this because all our experiments tell us that the Universe should be smooth, empty and filled only with light.
A test for the Higgs mechanism theory is to look for a particle that the theory predicts, dubbed the Higgs boson. The theory predicts that this particle will be created in the very high energy collisions going on at the LHC, but as soon as it is created it will decay into other particles. This means that we have to look for these other particles and find enough of them to rule out the possibility that they are being produced by something other than the Higgs boson.
My Typical Day
Right now I spend most of my time staring into space and drawing strange diagrams.
While I was doing my PhD I spent alot of my time turning my ideas into computer programmes. I would think of a way to implement a test for finding the Higgs, then draw some pictures to get the ideas clear in my head, then turn the idea into code so I could run it on computer simulations of what happens in a collision.
I’m doing something quite different at the moment, turning the data collected from the ATLAS detector into music. I’m working with artists and musicians to sonify the data, which means that we want to make it into sounds without losing the important information contained within the data. Sonification is a fairly new technique in data analysis. It has been used before by NASA and also by seismologists (people studying volcanoes and earthquakes) but never before by particle physicists as far as I’m aware.
We call the project LHCsound.
What I'd do with the prize money
I’d buy myself some shoes so I could leave this dark room I am trapped in!
Seriously, I’d put it towards the LHCsound project I am working on http://www.lhcsound.com
I wanted to spend it on going to Alton towers, but I am having a hard time convincing myself that counts as science communication..
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Happy, thoughtful, unbalanced
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Probably my first visist to glastonbury festival
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
I’d like to be smarter, give up smoking and be able to dance.