Why put yourself into the grinder?

28 October 2008

Courtesy of Flickr's waterlilysage

As usual on ATLAS, the time has come for several people to step down from their official roles and hand over to the next in line. We spoke to three collaborators who have recently, or will soon, reach the end of their terms, and asked them about their time in the hot-seat.


Chris Oram: Collaboration Board Chair (deputy first and last years) January 1st, 2005 to December 31st, 2008

Chris Oram finishes his stint as Chair of the Collaboration Board on December 31st. Following his election for the position opening in 2005, he jokes, “I foolishly agreed to do this.”

Making policy for the Collaboration Board has required Chris to fly to CERN 12 times a year. As Vancouver, Canada, is nine hours behind Geneva, he has spent approximately half of the last four years jet-lagged.

Nevertheless, he has found the experience very “professionally rewarding” because, in managing the 2500 people on ATLAS, the management and Collaboration Board chairs actively study management strategies.

In particular, they have studied transitions in management in order to create policies that will ease the transition from ATLAS as a construction project to ATLAS as a running experiment. “We studied Estonia – at the time and still – probably the most successful transition from a communist state to a command market,” he recounts.

“It’s been great fun working with Peter, Fabiola, and Steinar,” says Chris. “They aren’t ad-libbing. They really take seriously the job of management.”

The least fun aspect of his job was mediating “family squabbles” among members of the collaboration. “But it’s really a good family,” Chris amends, as collaborators are generally willing to share in the blame and become part of the solution when miscommunications occur.

All in all, Chris has very much enjoyed his years as chair of the Collaboration Board. “It was a challenge!” he says. “I like challenges.”

Next year, Chris and the Board will finally get to see whether the policies that they have designed based on their research make a smooth transition for ATLAS. In the meantime, he and his wife are planning a very different challenge – a cross-country bike trip that may take them from Bangkok to London, starting January 5th, 2009 (stay tuned for more details!). He plans to work on upgrades for the Super LHC upon his return from a year’s hiatus.


Karl Jakobs: Physics Coordinator October 1st 2007 to September 30th 2008

During his year spent as ATLAS Physics Coordinator, and the year prior to that spent as Deputy, Karl Jakobs focussed on steering the physics and combined performance working groups, helping them to prepare for physics analysis and first data.

Not many people will have envied the task he set himself of finally pulling together the CSC (Computing System Commissioning) effort before his term of office was up on October 1st this year, but Karl felt strongly about it. “I pushed right from the beginning … because too many of the Collaboration’s resources were bound up in it,” he explains; resources he felt could be put to better use elsewhere this close to data-taking.

His other pet project throughout his time as Coordinator was the re-focussing of the physics and combined performance groups in readiness for data-taking. ATLAS had previously been a little heavy on the ground with collaborators looking for new physics, compared with those converting the electronic signals from the detector into tangible items for the physicists to work with.

“We have to give much more weight to the combined performance groups in the near future,” he says, “and integrate people from the detector side as well as the physics groups.” This is the challenge that awaits Karl’s successor, Dave Charlton.

Overall, Karl’s experience in the role has been a good one. “Being at CERN [as Physics Coordinator] really felt like it did 20 years ago when I was here as a fellow and staff member,” he considers. “I could spend nearly 100% of my time devoted to ATLAS and to research, which was very positive.”

He cites the negative aspects of the role as: “being stretched to deal with many different groups, people, and problems at the same time,” but was kept motivated, he says, by the pursuit of answers to physics questions which have interested him for the last 20 years: the questions ATLAS aims to answer.

Karl is now back in his position at Freiburg University, catching up on his teaching duties after his two-year absence, and taking care of his group, who he admits “got a bit neglected” while he was away at CERN.


Louis Fayard: Higgs Group Co-convenor, October 1st 2006 to September 30th 2008

Before taking up his appointment as Higgs Group Co-convenor on October 1st, 2006, Louis Fayard’s activities leaned in the direction of hardware. Although a small portion of his time was spent doing base analyses on Monte Carlo data with a student at Orsay University, Paris, a greater portion was devoted to electronic engineering projects and working on the readout driver of the Liquid Argon Calorimeter.

By chance, these projects were just coming to a close when Louis took up his office as Higgs Group Co-convenor, allowing him to switch entirely to analysis concerns. A large portion of his two-year appointment – particularly towards the beginning – was dominated by overseeing the generation and analysis of datasets for the CSC exercise. The remainder was spent mediating relations between different groups and parties.

“It was a little bit tough,” he admits, because, with the start-up date in the distant future, the organisation of sub-groups was not always perfect. This was compounded by the fact that the Higgs group is particularly big and student-heavy. “It was a complicated thing to manage – more complicated than I thought,” he says.

How he kept himself motivated is, he laughs, “not even a question I had time to ask myself, because there was always something to do.” In the end, he claims that he is “proud of nothing, because it’s the Higgs Group which has done most of the work.” 

“Probably more important than what I’m proud of is the things I could have done better,” he considers. “Even if I did spend 70 per cent of my time on this work, I should have been more organised and tried to understand sooner the scientific problems of the subgroups and analysis.”

He may be hard on himself, but about the overall experience Louis is very positive: “It was fun because it opened my mind first towards other people, and second on topics where I was less of an expert before,” he says, also citing the frequent meetings he had to attend as a handy way of becoming better informed about what was going on in ATLAS as a whole.

“It was really worth it. Although I did know a little bit of Higgs physics before, I learned a lot,” he says. “Even for my work now, it’s very useful.” That work has seen him go back to the grass-roots, working with another new student and some post docs, this time on Higgs analyses.

Ceri Perkins

ATLAS e-News

Katie McAlpine

ATLAS e-News