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Bye bye beams!

The two-year shutdown will be a welcome break from shifts to get down to some analysis, but the team will miss the atmosphere in the ATLAS control room

Pauline Gagnon


This time, it’s true. Tomorrow at 6am, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will stop colliding particles for about two years, after postponing the date by three days to give the heavy-ion community enough data. Shortly after this extension was announced, dozens of volunteers signed up to staff the experiments and accelerators control rooms.

I was one of them, happy for the opportunity to say goodbye to the ATLAS control room where I have had lots of great moments on shifts. The atmosphere is always special: this is where you meet or get to know better many collaborators who normally work outside CERN, and often, on different continents. Many come to CERN to take their share of the operation load and participate in the data taking.

So here we are, nine people staffing the control room from as many different nationalities plus a few experts on call, coming and going during the one before last shift.

Stephanie Zimmermann, one of the two people in charge of running the detector, confides she would welcome a short break. A few months would be great, she says, but two years will be long. But Anna Sfyrla, one of the trigger experts who has to attend the run meetings six days a week says she is looking forward to having a breather.

One other obvious person to ask is Kerstin Lantzsch. It's easy to catch her as she practically lives in the control room. She is run coordinator for the pixels, which means she is responsible for the subdetector placed closest to the beam, the one most likely to be damaged when beams are injected inside the accelerator. She has to be in the control room every time the LHC brings fresh beams into collision - several times a day for the past seven months. No wonder she is looking forward to having a more normal life - but she knows she will miss the action.

Giovanna Lehman is one of the experts on the central data acquisition system. She answers all sorts of tough questions at all times of day or night when there is a hiccup in the system that the shifter cannot handle. She looks forward to sleeping more regular hours and getting involved in the many improvements they are planning for this system.

Cyril Bécot, a student at Orsay near Paris, will use the time afforded by the long shutdown to complete his PhD thesis. Since he studies Higgs boson decays to two photons, he had to work under great pressure over the last six months given the high profile of the Higgs search. He looks forward to taking his time to improve his analysis and go more in depth instead of constantly racing against the clock.

And so will I, even if it means more chances for greater discoveries later on. In the meantime, the champagne is cooling off in the fresh snow outside - we plan to toast the LHC at the end of our shift.

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