Saturday, September 18, 2010

more notes on CERN

Yesterday, I had a very fruitful discussion with one of my professors on my work (and very intense as well) and since that has revived some thoughts I have on my project that is currently on hold due to other commitments, I will jot them here

CERN is like the UN in some ways, but not in all ways. For example, not all the employees based there are directly employed by CERN. Some were sent over as 'labor' and 'expertise' contribution by various institutions who collaborate with CERN, even though they may be there pretty much long-term, so the salary scale and even benefits differ. Also, there are the shiftworkers (shift work can be extremely exciting or the most boring job in the world, depending on what happens during shifts. Once again, it reminds me a lot of the whole Star Trek trope). The politics involved are interesting to explore because it actually affects the way in which the organization, and even individual experiments, can be directed. We think that 'paranoid' reading only exists in the literary fields, but one sees it at play in plain-sight in the way in which each and every piece of interpretation and formulation is subjected to the 'inquisition' in this 'big science;

One of the physicists sketched out the organization hierarchy for me. And with regard to the Senate, apparently one can attend it via conference call but need to figure out how I can access it from outside of CERN. CERN itself reminds me of the spaceship Enterprise, with its own habitat rules and security measures. I mentioned getting free accomdation for 1.5 weeks, courtesy of Duke's ATLAS group (they built the TRT or Transition Ray Tracker for the ATLAS detector). The accommodation (non air-conditioned hostels) are located within the Meyrin site itself, right next to the labs, some of the control rooms and the various mazes and workshops that make up CERN. CERN's architecture is a real sight, as you can see much of the artefacts of the 1950s still about, and juxtaposed that with the newer additions. When Clark spoke about visiting the underground storeroom of Los Alamos in his book Natural Born Cyborgs, I could attest to seeing similar sights where the workshops are, where all detectors and parts are still stored.

The accelerator physicists who are also intrinsic to the entire project, because their role is to find the safest and more efficient way of enabling the injection of beams so as to be able to cater to the needs of the 4 main experiments on site (there is apparently an LHCf but that's like very small and is interested in 'forward' quarks and TOTEM which is like wrapping up. I didn't get to talk to the reps of either one at this visit, because everyone's running around like mad chicken in preparation for the big wedding, ICHEP). One of the accelerator physicists from Brookhaven (but he was on temporary duty at CERN to help with the upgrading of instruments relating to injection of beams) suggested that I should take a short course in accelerator physics at Chicago's Fermilab to really understand the physics behind it.

But I do know that I will need to pay visits to some of the national labs around the US as this would be good to help me understand the epistemic culture behind the global yet simultaneous collaborations. The entire GRID of data flows and transfers is I think fertile ground for thinking about the gaming interface, not to mention the politics and hierarchy of the organization itself.

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