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Lancaster University researcher on venturing into the unknown at CERN

Posted June 23, 2015

Dr Katy Tschann-Grimm is a Lancaster University researcher who works entirely at CERN, the European nuclear research centre near Geneva which houses the LHC.


The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest and most powerful particle collider, restarted on 5 May for the first time since 2013.

Dr Tschann-Grimm explains what physicists are doing in the first stages of the second run: “The very first data being collected right now helps us to understand the new pieces of the detector that have been added since the last run and also the new software.  Then in a few months we can begin looking for new particles!”

This time the LHC will smash protons together at nearly double the energy the machine reached during its first run.

In the first run physicists discovered the long sought Higgs boson, which helps explain how matter attains its mass.

Now scientists are venturing into the unknown by analysing the debris from the proton collisions, which may contain new particles.

They are testing different theories of particle physics beyond the Standard Model, in particular ‘supersymmetric’ theories, which predict a partner particle for each particle in the Standard Model, to further explain why particles have mass.

Speaking about the aim of the second run of experiments, she said:

“In the second run the searches will spread out, looking for lots of different new particles.  Many groups will look for evidence of Supersymmetry, but Supersymmetry is a flexible model that could show up in many different ways. It’s fun to be one of many smaller groups looking for lots of different things.”

Katy works specifically on ATLAS, one of two detectors at the LHC. She describes her life and work in Geneva:

“A usual day for me consists of writing code to analyse the data, assessing the results, and talking with other people about what they mean.  When it is my turn to be ‘on shift’ I spend time in the ATLAS control room, monitoring the proton collisions inside the detector.

“I also help supervise the Lancaster PhD students who come to CERN, and one will work with me on this search starting in the summer. About once a month we meet with school groups visiting from the Lancaster area, which is fun.

“And now that it’s summer and the days are long, there is time to go up in the Jura mountains after work.  It is very wild up there, which makes a nice contrast to all the high tech stuff happening during the day!”

When asked what advice she would give to young physicists, she said:

“It’s great to try lots of different research when you’re just starting out.  There are big differences between theory and experiment and between all the different fields of physics. Go try things out!”

Source: Lancaster University

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