Organized Particle Physicists, Now I Seen Everything

Yesterday, I heard talks by the spokesmen of the ATLAS and CMS experiments on how they were planning to turn the detectors back on for data-taking in 2015. I actively did particle physics research for 20 years in collaborations as small as 30 people and as large as 200 people. While particle physics is known as a collaborative field, organization always seemed like a happy by-product of our work rather than being central to it.

That no longer seems to be the case. ATLAS and CMS will hold large data challenges this year, where a huge number of events will be simulated and then processed with the reconstruction software. The purpose of this exercise is to show that as the data starts flowing with the LHC turns back on, it can be processed and analyzed within hours. In the old days after the first tape of data was recorded, people would start writing the reconstruction software.

It is not just the software that is organized. The detectors will run for months with cosmic rays, so the physicists can check that all of the detectors are being read out correctly and the the various parts of the detector talk to each otherproperly. All sorts of problems will be caught and fixed before the accelerator is turn on. 

The accelerator and the detectors are huge investments of time and money, so it makes sense to carefully prepare. Since I now represent the funding agencies, I expect this level of preparation, but it seems somewhat out character to me to be that they are as ready as they are.