Thanks for a really enjoyable event!
A-Levels & GCSE (1998-2005), Unviersity of Warwick (2005-2009)
Potato Packer, Engineer, Farmer, Web Developer
Particle Physics PhD student, at the University of Warwick, working on the T2K Experiment
The T2K Experiment
Favourite thing to do in science The best thing about science is solving problems. I really enjoy hunting down the reason things are going wrong, trying to figure out what are the symptoms and what’s the cause. Then when you find it and fix it and everything starts working again, or even works better than before, that’s a good feeling! It’s great when you feel like you’re making a difference.
I’m a Particle Physicist studying Neutrinos: the weak but mysterious particles that may answer our biggest questions
The job of Particle Physics is to study the basic building blocks of the Universe. Sometimes that means trying to understand how the particles we know about work, and sometimes it means trying to discover new ones.
I work with particles called “Neutrinos”. You’ve probably never noticed them, but more than 10 billion of them pass through your body every second! You don’t notice them, because they don’t do anything. In fact, alsmost all of them pass through the entire planet without doing anything.
The neutrinos going through your body come from the Sun, cosmic rays and nuclear reactors. But the ones I work with are made at a particle accelerator in Japan (J-PARC). It makes a beam of neutrinos and fires it right through the Earth to the other side of Japan. We have detectors at either end (ND280 and Super-Kamiokande) which tell us how the neutrinos have changed.
Neutrinos are one of the most common particles in the Unvierse, but they’re also the least understood. We study them because they should be able to answer some of the biggest questions in particle physics today: Why are some particles very heavy and others very light? Why is the Unvierse made only of matter and not anti-matter as well?
My Typical Day
We can’t all have a particle accelerator in our lab, so I spend most of my day at a computer…
I work with scientists all over the world: in America, Canada, Cpain, Poland, Russia, Korea, Japan… so much of our communication is via e-mail. This way we can communicate cross-time zones and other people on the mailing lists can see what you’re working on.
But not e-mail isn’t very practical for many discussions, so we also hold regular phone meetings… of source with people scattered across the world there’s always someone who has to call in during the night!
Because there’s only one experiment, and it’s in Japan, my day-to-day work mostly ivolves writing computer programs. Some of these computer programs take the raw information that comes out of our detector, and try to figure out what particle were going through the detector, and how much energy they had. We call this “reconstruction” of the particles.
My other computer programs then look through this information to find a particularly rare combination of particles which no other similar experiment has yet found.
Less day-to-day, but still fairly often make visits, arrange visits to the physics department, give talks and put on demonstrations for school students, teachers, in fact anyone who wants to listen!
What I'd do with the money
I want every school student to know the particles that their world is made of…
I don’t think I’ve ever been to a school which does not have a copy of the Periodic Table up on the wall. Even people who have very little interest in science leave school knowing what it is.
But I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Standard Model of Particle Physics up on a classroom wall. There are only 18 particles in it, but they make up everything in the periodic table, everything you’ll ever touch or see and you yourself. Usually you wouildn’t learn about them until the last year of A-level, but I think the building blocks of our Unvierse are to fascinating to leave that late.
I want to change this two ways…
First I will build an interactive website, which shows all the particles and emphasizes the simplicity of the particles, and the patterns in how they’re arranged. Clicking on any of the particles would take you to a page about each one, describing it’s key properties and how it behaves, with little snippets about who discovered them and how.
It would be viewable on computers, so that teachers can make it part of their lessons, but also viewable on tablets and phones, because you should be able to see it whenever you want to learn more about particle physics (at school, on the bus or at home)!
£500 wouldn’t normally be enough to have a website made, but I make websites for a hobby, so there would be no cost in making it. Only a small cost in putting it online ~£100 for 5 years.
With the rest of the money… I’d design a classroom poster of the table of particles to go with the website. All the money would go into printing and distributing it to as many schools as possible (including all the schools in the Zinc Zone!). It would be colourful and exciting, enticing people to look at it, but at the same time conveying the simplicity of how few things acctually make up our Unvierse. It would also have to be resiliant enough to survive the classroom environment.
There would also be link to the website, so that those who want to find out more can.
I don’t know about you, but I spent a lot of time at school staring at the walls… everyone who has a lesson in a room with that poster up would leave school knowing what they’re made of! That would be a result.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
High energy physicist
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
I spent my first year building some million pound particle detectors. They’re out in Japan now and they’re detcting particles!
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Rarely, but I sat through a lot of class detentions.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Visit NASA. That place is incredible
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Usually I wish for a Ferrari, but if I had three wishes… I’d wish for three Ferraris.
Tell us a joke.
There are plenty of physics jokes, but none of them are funny.
Here’s the first of 6 particle detectors I built:
The detectors were shipped out to Japan and installed as part of a larger detector, called ND280, which you can see, under-construction:
ND280 is a very complicated detector, so that we can predict what particles will do in ND280 we make a simulation. The screenshot below shows (part of) that simulation after I did some work improving it:
My experiment is made up of hundereds of people from all over the world. Here’s some, but not all, of us at our meeting in Japan earlier this year:
Can you spot me?