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UK News from CERN Issue 64

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Issue 64 Contents

Paul Laycock

Managing a data tsunami

It’s a mix of problem solving, quality assurance, workflow improvement and gentle persuasion.

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Amec Foster Wheeler

Testing capabilities

Amec Foster Wheeler has won a contract to characterise radioactive waste.

Read article
Tungsten Powder

One of a kind

Introducing CERN’s high intensity test facility for new materials.

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Paul Collier

A fine Fellow

Recognising engineering excellence.

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Dates for the diary

Unmissable events and deadlines.

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Managing a data tsunami


Paul Laycock
(Credit: P Laycock)

“When data comes off the detector, I make sure that it’s ready for my collaboration colleagues to analyse.”

That’s Paul Laycock’s role as ATLAS Data Preparation Coordinator in a nutshell; but really it’s a mix of problem solving, quality assurance, workflow improvement and gentle persuasion.

Paul (Liverpool) was elected in October last year to the 12-month position following a year as Deputy, and it is no exaggeration to say that this role is critical to the physics outputs of the 3000-strong collaboration.

As soon as data comes off the detector, it’s the role of a Data Quality Shifter from Paul’s team, working in the ATLAS Control Room, to take a look at a small sample and check it’s OK for analysis by the wider collaboration. This requires running reconstruction software and making a quick quality judgement by looking at histograms on a computer screen. Despite lots of automation and software tools, it’s a job that can only be done by a real, live human being – someone who can decide ‘does the physics look OK?’ With ATLAS taking data 24/7, any problems need to be caught and fixed in real time to ensure that users are analysing the best quality data that will give the best chance of making new discoveries.

Paul and his team calibrate the detector during and immediately after each experimental run to make sure they’re getting the very best out of it. For example, detector components can move out of alignment and these shifts need to be tracked and taken into account as soon as possible. For some components, a shift of even 10 microns (roughly a tenth of the width of a human hair) can have a significant effect, resulting in less precise measurements of particles created in LHC collisions. If this happens, Paul’s team has to find corrections which can be applied to the data to compensate.

With the quantity of data increased twofold from Run 1 to Run 2, efficient use of ATLAS’ computing resources has been critical in coping with this tsunami of data.

And it’s required the collaboration to work in a different way to access data. During the Long Shutdown, Paul led the reinvention of the analysis model used by ATLAS members.

“We had to improve the way we work and get better efficiency from our computing resources; we certainly couldn’t have started collecting Run 2 data with the old analysis model,” he explains.

Changing the way people work is always a challenge in any business but the new analysis model has been successfully implemented and Paul is clearly proud of this significant contribution to the collaboration.

Over the next 12 months Paul plans to lead further improvements to the efficiency of ATLAS data preparation, “There’s still scope for improving the CPU efficiency in the ATLAS computing resources, and we’ve just introduced a change which should help.”

That change dramatically reduces the amount of duplicated data that is stored, without compromising user access. Paul describes it as an ‘easy win’ but any change to the way that ATLAS works has to be very carefully evaluated before the collaboration will allow it to be implemented.

“The entire physics output of the collaboration depends on this role,” says Paul. Whilst some would shy away from the responsibility, he just smiles and adds, “No pressure!”

It’s the simplification of workflows for his colleagues and solving complicated technical challenges that motivates Paul. “When we have a problem, everyone is banging their head on the same wall. If I can help to fix it, that’s 3000 happy people, and good for ATLAS! We presented so many results at the summer conferences – as a direct result of the improved computing resource management. I’m really happy about that!”



Testing capabilities

Amec Foster Wheeler

Work under way at Amec Foster Wheeler’s Analytical Services Laboratories, where the samples from CERN are tested
(Credit: Amec Foster Wheeler)

Following an industry-focused visit to CERN arranged by UKTI and STFC, UK company Amec Foster Wheeler has won a contract to help CERN characterise radioactive waste for safe disposal.

At its laboratories in Warrington, the company is carrying out radiochemical analyses of metallic samples (aluminium, iron, steel and copper) from dismantled components of CERN accelerators to quantify the activity of difficult-to-measure nuclides such as H-3, Fe-55 and Ni-63. These radionuclides are typical activation products which are generated when particles from the frayed, outer edges of the beam interact with magnets, collimators or other components inside the accelerator.

“The tests are important because some radionuclides are difficult to measure with conventional radiation detectors such as dose rate meters and gamma spectroscopy detectors,” says Francesco La Torre, CERN’s Technical Coordinator for Radiochemical Analyses.

Having a clear understanding of the residual activation in CERN’s very-low-level radioactive waste, as well as other potentially radioactive material will ensure that CERN’s Radiation Protection group can dispose of redundant components in the safest and most cost-effective way.

The contract was awarded following Amec Foster Wheeler’s participation in one of the regular ‘UK at CERN’ events in which STFC and UKTI work together to identify project leaders and

procurement managers with particular requirements for products and services, and introduce them to representatives from UK companies who can meet their needs. This extremely targeted approach has proved highly successful in helping UK companies win business at CERN.

“We offered a range of Amec Foster Wheeler capabilities,” says Greg Willetts, Consultancy Director for the company’s Clean Energy business, “and it’s fair to say that we had not anticipated our radiochemical analysis service would be high on CERN’s requirements. Without the visit and UKTI’s involvement, we wouldn’t have made this connection.”

Amec Foster Wheeler is hoping that this contract is just the start, “We aim to build on this developing relationship with CERN and offer a wider range of Amec Foster Wheeler services,” explains Greg.

The next UK at CERN visit is scheduled for 23-24 February 2016. Any companies (whether large or small) that would like to attend are invited to contact Eleanor Baha for more information.

If you’re about to place an order for CERN, or you’re a company that would like to supply CERN, take a look at our tips for boosting UK success.



One of a kind

Proton Induced Effects on Tungsten Powder
(© 2014-2015 CERN)

If you’re designing radical, new components for the next generation of particle accelerators or potential future facilities such as a neutrino factory, you need to know that they will withstand the harsh environments in which they will have to survive.

Using a high intensity beam of protons from the Super Proton Synchrotron, CERN’s HiRadMat facility is the only place in the world where components can be tested under very closely controlled conditions.

Chris Densham leads the High Power Targets Group at the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. He and his team specialise in developing targets for current and future particle accelerators. They carried out the very first experiment on HiRadMat in 2012 and are flying the flag for UK users of the facility.

“We’re currently working on new ideas for targets that could be used for a future neutrino factory or muon collider,” explains Chris. “Our idea is to use something that can’t be broken because it is already broken, a fluidised tungsten powder pushed through a tube by helium gas.

The concept of using a gas to pump a powder is not new – it’s a technique used to move flour around cake factories (!) – but it has never been used for such a dense material as tungsten. When Chris first heard that CERN was planning a new user facility for testing components, he thought it was the ideal place to test the new tungsten powder target and he submitted a proposal for an experiment.

Chris’s proposal to test the new target in a helium-rich environment was successful and his experiment was also the very first for HiRadMat.

The experiment went extremely well, with the team observing an unwanted ‘splash’ in the tungsten as it interacted with the proton beam. However, this splash was around a hundred times smaller than was observed in a previous design using mercury. What wasn’t clear to Chris and his colleagues was why the splash was happening; could it be the helium gas expanding, stress from the beam passing through the material, or an electrostatic effect?

The team examined the data and carried out more tests at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. Then it was back to HiRadMat

this summer to do a second experiment. This time, they tried the experiment in a vacuum (to eliminate the likelihood of the splash effect being caused by the helium) using different sizes of tungsten particles.

“What makes HiRadMat so useful is that we can completely control the testing conditions,” says Chris. “We can alter the intensity of the beam, the distribution of the pulses and tune the beam size, whilst capturing exactly what happens in the interaction with a wide variety of diagnostic equipment.”

As part of the collaborative working, much of this equipment was provided by CERN, notably a camera capable of capturing more than 1000 frames per second and a Laser Doppler Vibrometer to measure vibrations in the wall of the tube containing the tungsten powder.

A similar powder splash was observed in vacuum in the second experiment, with a larger effect for smaller grains of tungsten. The group has made a preliminary conclusion that this was an electrostatic effect.

That wasn’t Chris’s group’s only experiment on HiRadMat this summer – another project is a collaboration with Fermilab to study beryllium as a window material that could be used for the LBNF-Dune neutrino facility. The intensity of the pulses that will go through the beryllium window could cause the temperature to jump by several hundred degrees – and that could have dramatic effects of the performance of the materials.

Working together, the STFC, Fermilab, University of Oxford and CERN collaboration tested a range of beryllium samples and discs in the HiRadMat beam and they are now reviewing the results of the experiment. When the samples have ‘cooled down’ sufficiently for them to be transported, they will be taken to Oxford for specialist metallurgical examination.

“HiRadMat is the only place in the world where you can do this type of testing,” says Chris. “This experiment is a good example of collaborative working between the materials science community and accelerator and target experts. But understanding radiation damage is also an issue for the fission/fusion community, and HiRadMat is a niche facility that can help all of us.”



A fine Fellow

Paul Collier

The protons travel faster than Usain Bolt: Paul Collier with former Science Minister, David Willetts MP.
(Credit: CERN)

Congratulations to Paul Collier, Head of the CERN Beams department who has recently been elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering. Paul’s citation recognises “his major engineering contributions and leadership to particle accelerators during the past 25 years, including the Large Electron Positron Collider (LEP), the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS) and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

These projects are the three largest scientific instruments ever built and are among the greatest engineering endeavours ever undertaken by humanity. Their design and construction require many branches of engineering, including civil, mechanical, electrical and informatics.”

You can read more about Paul in UKNFC 34.



Dates for the Diary


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