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A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

february 2014 dimensions

Table of contents
Gallery: Imagine the beam
Signal to background: DECam pinpoints asteroid
Breaking: Scientists complete the top quark puzzle
Breaking: Black widow pulsars consume their mates
Breaking: Cosmic rays on demand
Day in the life: Statistically significant
February 25, 2014
Imagine the beam
A former physicist uses accelerator data to create artistic
By Andres Wanner, Emily Carr University of Art and Design and Simon Fraser
Sixteen years after graduating as a nuclear physicist, following a long period of working
as a digital designer and educator, Andres Wanner again immersed himself in a physics
environment at TRIUMF, Canadas national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics.
Midway through a second Masters degree in Visual Arts, he was curious to revisit his
scientific past from a different, artistic perspective.
With the support of his supervisor, Ingrid Koenig, an artist who often engages in
conversation with scientists, Wanner had the opportunity to spend 12 weeks as a resident
artist exploring the heart of TRIUMF: the worlds largest cyclotron, a giant machine
accelerating a beam of protons used for experiments and medical treatments. He decided
use available data to create a visual representation of the cyclotron's particle beam, and
wrote about his process for symmetry.
My art deals with technological precision, uncertainties and errorsareas all relevant to
TRIUMFs cyclotron. Once again stationed at the laboratory, excited about the prospect
of working with such a big machine, I began a digital data visualization project aimed at
translating the particle beams propertieswith a focus on its inaccuracies and
fluctuationsinto aesthetic imagery.
I was given a desk in the theory students workroom, as well as access to both the
electronic data that describes the particle beam and, most importantly, the TRIUMF
operators who are responsible for maintaining the beam and keeping it on track with
micrometer precision. I was given free access to the tremendous amount of data
generated to this end: position, width, height and shape profiles of the particle beam at
different points along its course, recorded in 5 minute intervals and ranging back several
Using visualization software called Processing, I started producing speculative
pictures based on this data: What kind of traces would the beam leave, if it were used as
a recording tool or if its motions were traced on a photosensitive plate? Of course, that
was a hypothetical question, as the beam is invisible, enclosed within vacuum tubes into
which no human gaze can enter. Yet its a natural question to ask.
In hallway conversations, I asked how people imagined the beamscientists,
operators, communication professionals, students and visitorseveryone had mental
images, sometimes based on science, in other cases alluding to science-fiction images of
laser beams or starship fuses. I learned that the beams focus alternates between
horizontal and vertical, resulting in a spiral ribbon shape. If the beam were immersed in
air, it would indeed glow like a Star-Trek laser beam. Informed speculations about its
color ranged from whitea mix of all color wavelengthsto redthe scientific convention
for representing the positively charged proton.
Expanding on these informal conversations, I conducted an anonymous survey on
how the TRIUMF community imagined the beam. The survey revealed more imaginative
mental images varying between blue, violet, beige, golden or colorless beams, while
most agreed that they envision a bright intense glow. People described the shape and
texture of the beam as a very thin, very straight, bright thread, rigid wire, series of
collimated red dots, or compared it to bunches of protons making racecar sounds or
flying smarties.
I also sourced images from pop-culture, observing that beams are often represented
as glowing in intense saturated colors. They are usually depicted with sharp, defined
edges, sometimes surrounded by a glowing halo. Typically straight, thin and focused, but
occasionally in zigzag or other shapes, they can be slightly transparent and sometimes
possess an inner texture or structure.
Inspired and informed by all these sources, I developed the series Hypothetical
Beam, which represents the irregular shape of the beam, amplified but based on actual
data. It implements the characteristic glow prevalent in my research outcomes, while
actual beam data was used as a base for developing these new and surprising shapes.
The picture Sketchbook of the Beam is reminiscent of a drawing on paper; I
wondered what a pencil would draw, if attached to the beam. In this work, I related erratic
beam movements with the casual, colloquial language operators used to describe the
operation of the beam in an electronic logbook. They reported down time, a drive
getting stuck, and many tripsjargon describing different malfunctions. In contrast,
they used terms like a smooth shift or a fairly happy radio frequency, a machine
performing stably, or no other interesting events. Anecdotal information also
illustrated the routine of workdays spent monitoring technical devices: Chased a mouse
out of the control room or A Silent NightMerry Christmas.
The residency at TRIUMF allowed me to revisit my past as a nuclear scientist. Many
things reminded me of my experience 16 years ago: seemingly disorganized cables in the
laboratories, the rubbery smell of science equipment, even the informal but concentrated
atmosphere in the theory students office. I found the environment more welcoming than
expected. Scientists were open-minded towards my investigations, I could feel a sense of
complicity and common ground when we talked: Like a research scientist, I was driven by
a vision, a quest for something meaningful.
Overall, this project links the daily routine of operating a machine with the
superhuman ambition of exploring the universe. The visualizations amplify the surprising
fluctuations and oscillations of the beam, freely exploring data to create inspired forms
that need not faithfully represent scientific meaning. With these images, I seek a way of
talking about sciencenot in an educational manner, but by creating an empathic
connection to the personal experience of being engaged in the scientific adventure.
Sketch Beam Traces
Courtesy of: Andres Wanner
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signal to background
February 25, 2014
DECam pinpoints asteroid
When weather prevented other telescopes from tracking a potentially
hazardous asteroid, the Dark Energy Camera stepped in.
By Leah Hesla
For seven minutes earlier this month, two Fermilab physicists moonlighted as
astronomers who, like the Men in Black, were positioned to protect the Earth from the
scum of the universe.
On February 3, Alex Drlica-Wagner and Steve Kent were in Chile taking data for the
Dark Energy Survey when they received an email stating that a satellite telescope had
picked up signs of a potentially hazardous asteroid, one whose orbit might soon meet
with Earths.
The message had come from a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Bad
weather in the northern hemisphere had foiled attempts by JPLs two go-to cameras to
photograph the asteroid, hindering the labs ability to predict its orbit. Could the Dark
Energy Camera take a bit of time off from its usual task of imaging distant galaxies to
take pictures of this near-Earth object?
We know about thousands of these asteroids, Kent says. Of course, one we didnt
know about hit Russia last year, so theres a lot of interest.
Since the asteroid was new on the orbital block, astronomers had only a rough idea of
where it was headed. They did know it would soon pass in line with the sun and thus be
difficult to spot in photographs.
If we didnt follow up on it within two days, they werent going to be able to follow it
up anytime soon, Drlica-Wagner says. Because of the weather and the uncertainty of
the predictions, DECam was the only thing that could pull it off.
Given Chiles clear skies and DECams large field of view, Drlica-Wagner and Kent
were fairly confident they could catch the asteroid on camera in five takes, even if its
predicted location was only an estimate. They punched in the coordinates JPL gave them
and took their shots. Seven minutes later, they had photos.
The asteroid turned up in all five, though it wasnt immediately apparent. The images
had to be processed by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Ariz., and
coordinates submitted to the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass., to figure out the
orbit. The results were then sent to JPL.
The asteroid looked just like the faint stars that it shared the photos with, except for
one characteristicit appeared in different positions in the five images, just the way a
cartoon dot would move in a flipbook.
Apollo-class asteroid 2014 BE63 looks like a faint star in the images taken by the Dark
Energy Camera in Chile. Click here to see the asteroid in motion.
Courtesy of: Steve Kent, Fermilab
After combining the pictures with the satellite data, the asteroid-tracking crew brought
good news.
At its closest approach to Earth on March 1, newly discovered Apollo-class asteroid
2014 BE63 will be 18 million miles away.
The Dark Energy Camera scientists were glad to come to the aid of fellow
In astronomy there are always things that are time-critical in nature. People will say,
Youre at the telescope. Can you do something for me? Kent says. Its a bit of a
tradition to help when you can.
He added jokingly, In this case, saving the Earth was an extra factor, so we thought it
was generous.
A version of this article originally appeared inFermilab Today.
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February 24, 2014
Scientists complete the top quark
Fermilab's CDF and DZero experiments have discovered the last
predicted way to produce the top quark, the heaviest elementary
Scientists on the CDF and DZero experiments at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
have found the final predicted way of creating a top quark, completing a picture of this
particle nearly 20 years in the making.
The two collaborations jointly announced on February 21 that they had observed one
of the rarest methods of producing the elementary particlecreating a single top quark
through the weak nuclear force, in what is called the s-channel. For this analysis,
scientists from the CDF and DZero collaborations sifted through data from more than 500
trillion proton-antiproton collisions produced by the Tevatron particle accelerator (pictured
above) from 2001 to 2011. They identified about 40 particle collisions in which the weak
nuclear force produced single top quarks in conjunction with single bottom quarks.
Top quarks are the heaviest and among the most puzzling elementary particles. They
weigh even more than the Higgs bosonas much as an atom of goldand only two
machines have ever produced them: Fermilabs Tevatron and the Large Hadron Collider
at CERN. There are several ways to produce them, as predicted by the theoretical
framework known as the Standard Model, and the most common one was the first one
discovered: a collision in which the strong nuclear force creates a pair consisting of a top
quark and its antimatter cousin, the anti-top quark.
Collisions that produce a single top quark through the weak nuclear force are rarer,
and the process scientists on the Tevatron experiments have just announced is the most
challenging of these to detect. This method of producing single top quarks is among the
rarest interactions allowed by the laws of physics. The detection of this process was one
of the ultimate goals of the Tevatron, which for 25 years was the most powerful particle
collider in the world.
This diagram shows a single top quark being created through the weak force. A quark interacts with an antiquark, forming a W boson, a particle that mediates the
weak force. The W boson then decays into a top quark and an antibottom quark, which can be seen in the CDF and DZero detectors.
Illustration by: Fermilab
This is an important discovery that provides a valuable addition to the picture of the
Standard Model universe, says James Siegrist, US Department of Energy Associate
Director of Science for High Energy Physics. It completes a portrait of one of the
fundamental particles of our universe, by showing us one of the rarest ways to create
Searching for single top quarks is like looking for a needle in billions of haystacks.
Only one in every 50 billion Tevatron collisions produced a single s-channel top quark,
and the CDF and DZero collaborations only selected a small fraction of those to separate
them from background, which is why the number of observed occurrences of this
particular channel is so small. However, the statistical significance of the CDF and DZero
data exceeds that required to claim a discovery.
Kudos to the CDF and DZero collaborations for their work in discovering this
process, says Saul Gonzalez, program director for the National Science Foundation.
Researchers from around the world, including dozens of universities in the United
States, contributed to this important find.
The CDF and DZero experiments first observed particle collisions that created single
top quarks through a different process of the weak nuclear force in 2009. This
observation was later confirmed by scientists using the Large Hadron Collider.
Scientists from 27 countries collaborated on the Tevatron CDF and DZero
experiments and continue to study the reams of data produced during the colliders run,
using ever more sophisticated techniques and computing methods.
Im pleased that the CDF and DZero collaborations have brought their study of the
top quark full circle, says Fermilab Director Nigel Lockyer. The legacy of the Tevatron
is indelible, and this discovery only makes the breadth of that research even more

Fermilab published a version of this article as a press release.
February 21, 2014
Black widow pulsars consume
their mates
With a deadly embrace, 'spidery' pulsars devour their partners. One
such pulsar is the first rapidly spinning black widow to be discovered
using only gamma rays.
Black widow spiders and their Australian cousins, known as redbacks, are notorious for
killing and devouring their partners. Astronomers have noted similar behavior among two
rare breeds of binary system that contain rapidly spinning neutron stars, also known as
pulsars, and have named them accordingly.
The essential features of black widow and redback binaries are that they place a
normal but very low-mass star in close proximity to a [rapidly spinning] pulsar, which has
disastrous consequences for the star, says Roger Romani, a member of the Kavli
Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, an institute run jointly by Stanford and
SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.
So far, astronomers have found at least 18 black widows and nine redbacks within the
Milky Way, and additional members of each class have been discovered within the dense
globular star clusters that orbit our galaxy. The main difference between the two is that
black widow systems contain stars that are both physically smaller and of much lower
mass than those found in redbacks.
Spider pulsars
When a massive star explodes as a supernova, the crushed core it leaves behinda
neutron starsqueezes more mass than the sun into a ball no larger than Washington,
Young, an isolated neutron stars rotate a few thousand times per minute and emit
beams of radio, visible light, X-rays and gamma rays. They also generate powerful
outflows, or winds, of high-energy particles. The power for all this derives from the
neutron stars rapidly spinning magnetic field. Over time, as solitary pulsars wind down,
their emissions fade.
Thirty-two years ago, astronomers discovered a new, much faster class of pulsars.
These neutron stars spin at astonishing speeds, up to 43,000 revolutions per minute.
Today, more than 300 of these so-called millisecond pulsars have been cataloged.
While young pulsars usually appear in isolation, more than half of millisecond pulsars
have a stellar partner, suggesting that interactions with a normal star can make neutron
stars spin faster. But how did isolated millisecond pulsars get their kick?
Enter black widows and their kin.
The high-energy emission and wind from the pulsar basically heats and blows off the
normal stars material and, over millions to billions of years, can eat away the entire
star, says Alice Harding, an astrophysicist at NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center in
Greenbelt, Maryland. These systems can completely consume their companion stars,
and thats how we think solitary millisecond pulsars form.
For astronomers, an exciting aspect of the black widow and redback systems is the
opportunity to observe how the stellar companion intercepts energy from the pulsar. In
effect, the star serves as a vanity mirror, showing the pulsars emissions in tremendous
The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, which orbits the Earth, excels at locating
millisecond pulsars, with more than four dozen found to date. Pulsars stand out to Fermi
as prominent gamma-ray sources, but searching for their pulsations in Fermi data is
extraordinarily difficult without knowing more about the system. Follow-up surveys with
radio telescopes are usually the first to pick up actual pulses, providing confirmation that
the object is indeed a pulsar. By narrowing down the timing and other parameters, radio
studies also enable Fermi scientists to also tease out the gamma-ray pulses from Fermi
When Romani began investigating a source of pulses found by Fermi now known as
PSR J1311-3430 (J1311, for short), he imaged the system in visible light. This revealed a
faint star that changed color from an intense blue to a dull redhot and cold, for
starsevery hour and a half. Romani conjectured that the star was orbiting and being
dramatically heated by a compact object, most likely a pulsar, and suggested that the
system was a new black widow.
His measurements indicate that the side of the star facing the pulsar is heated to more
than 21,000 degrees Fahrenheit, more than twice as hot as the suns surface. The cool
red side reveals the true color of the pipsqueak star, glowing at a temperature of 5000
Fahrenheit or lower. From these temperatures, the scientists estimate that the companion
is between 12 and 17 times the mass of Jupiter.
Holger Pletsch at the Albert Einstein Institute in Hannover, Germany, led an
international team on an effort to comb through four years of Fermi LAT data in a search
for gamma-ray pulses from J1311. The orbital information established by Romanis work
significantly narrowed the search, but the unknown pulsar parameters still left 100 million
billion combinations to explore. Nevertheless, armed with a new, more efficient method,
they detected a millisecond pulsar that rotates 390 times a secondmore than 23,000
J1311 is the first millisecond pulsar ever detected using only gamma rays.
J1311 and other black widow and redback binaries offer unique natural laboratories
for studying pulsars up close through the disastrous effects on their partners, which are
distorted by the neutron stars tidal pull, inflamed by its gamma rays, pummeled with
particles accelerated to near the speed of light, and ultimately evaporated in a breakup of
cosmic proportions.
A version of this article was originally published by NASA.
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February 19, 2014
Cosmic rays on demand
At SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, researchers are using a
particle accelerator to help them search for the source of ultra-high-
energy cosmic rays.
By Lori Ann White
In a test facility at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, scientists have set the stage for
an experiment that mimics what happens when incredibly energetic particles hit our
atmosphere. The experiment should help them learn to use a new method of detecting
these particleswith radio waves.
The undertaking requires the labs historic linear accelerator, 3000 pounds of white
plastic blocks, giant radio antennas and a set of powerful magnetic coils.
The experiment is part of ANITA, the Antarctic Impulse Transient Antenna project,
which has been sending balloon-borne instruments into the upper atmosphere since
2006. But the results could benefit a broad range of other experiments.
Were looking for the cosmic particle accelerators responsible for the most energetic
particles ever detected, says Konstantin Belov, a research physicist from the University
of California, Los Angeles, and principal investigator of the experiment at SLAC.
Ultra-high-energy cosmic rays originate far beyond the borders of our galaxy, but
canand havehit Earths atmosphere with as much energy as a baseball traveling at 60
These particles are far more powerful than anything created in an accelerator built by
humans, Belov says. And since theyre too powerful to be deflected by the magnetic
fields of any galaxies or even galaxy clusters they pass, they should point directly back to
their origin.
That could be a giant black hole at the heart of a primordial galaxy or an even more
exotic phenomenon such as a magnetic monopole or cosmic string, he says. Using radio
waves to detect the cosmic rays could help solve this mystery.
Researchers Konstantin Belov (left) and Keith Bechtol look over the magnetic coils
that will impersonate the Earth's magnetic field.
Courtesy of: Brian Rauch
Cast and crew
To help them with their search for the origin of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays, the
researchers are simulating what happens when such a particle slams into the upper
atmosphere, collides with a random air molecule and produces an air showera
cascade of secondary particles and different types of radiation that shower down toward
the ground. They want to check their theoretical models of how this happens.
Thats where the magnets, plastic blocks, radio antennas and accelerated electrons
in SLACs End Station Test Beam Facility come in. The researchers are using them to
create artificial air showers that can be compared to computer simulations built from
Electrons accelerated to high speeds in the linac play the role of secondary particles
in an air shower. The plastic blocks are stand-ins for the Earths atmosphere, and a
series of magnetic coils simulates the Earths magnetic field. As the electrons hit the
plastic in this magnetic field, they give off radio waves, which are measured by antennas
located several feet away on the far wall.
Belov says that results look good so far, with the radio waves theyre detecting
following theoretical models.
When we turned on the magnets we saw a beautiful signal in perfect agreement with
what we predicted, he says.
Stellar performance
Belov cautions that theres still some work to do before researchers will be able to use
radio waves to completely map air showers, but theyve made a very good start, and he
hopes the ANITA flight scheduled for the next Antarctic summer can take advantage of
the method.
In fact, he says, the team at SLAC has yet to hit the most difficult part of their
Well need to find enough people to take it all apart, he says. Belov knows a
performance isnt really over until you strike the stage.
A version of this article was originally published by SLAC.
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day in the life
February 20, 2014
Statistically significant
Michelangelo DAgostino taps his physics ingenuity daily as a data
By Heather Rock Woods
Michelangelo DAgostino took a few forays into the world outside particle physics before
confidently switching to a career in data science, where he exercises his physics muscles
to generate results in politics, business and societal issues like energy and health.
I love being able to use my statistical and programming skills in an environment
where you can quickly see the impact that you're having on the world, DAgostino says.
Opting for data sciencea mix of computer programming, database work, statistical
analysis and machine learningwasnt a forgone conclusion. After college, DAgostino
taught high school physics for a year and entered graduate school at the University of
California, Berkeley, expecting hed eventually become a professor and teach.
At UC Berkeley, his work focused on the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the South
Pole, where thousands of sensors under the ice detect nearly massless but extremely
energetic neutrinos from exploding stars and other cataclysmic events. DAgostino ran
simulations to help distinguish whether particles hitting the sensors were of interest or
not. On the side, he wrote about science for The Berkeley Science Review and even
spent a summer as a writing intern for The Economist.
After earning his PhD, he secured a postdoctoral research position at Argonne
National Laboratory, just outside his Chicago hometown. He spent two years calibrating
instruments for a neutrino experiment in France, working with people from all over the
world and playing with the data to help find a parameter that helps explain neutrino
Still adventurous, DAgostino decided to test his physics-learned skills in the wider
world when he came across a job ad for data specialists for the 2012 Obama campaign
at Chicago headquarters.
DAgostino says that when he approached a mentor, Argonne High Energy Physics
Director Harry Weerts, about leaving particle physics for a year, he received unreservedly
supportive advice.
He told me that every time he wanted to do something that people told him he was
crazy to do, it was the best decision, DAgostino says.
So DAgostino took the leap and joined the campaignand discovered that the work
was surprisingly similar to what he had been doing in particle physics.
In particle physics, we build statistical models to tell us the probability of an event in
the detector being signal or background. On the campaign, we built models that would tell
us how likely someone was to support Obama, donate money or volunteer, he says. All
that without having to scrub toilets as he had at the South Pole (see his account of the
latter experience in The Economist).
Happy with the research-like challenges to solve in data science, DAgostino sought
to stay in his new field. When the campaign ended, he signed up with Chicago startup
Braintree, which aids online businesses in securely processing credit card payments.
Last summer, DAgostino also mentored graduate and undergraduate fellows in the
Data Science for Social Good program at the University of Chicago. Projects included
improving metro bus service, encouraging youth to attend college, and predicting energy
savings possible in different building types (in partnership with Lawrence Berkeley
National Laboratory).
Michelangelo is not only smart, but also very quick at picking up a lot of new
information, making himself invaluable and critical in a campaign full of data nerds, and
an impressive mentor as well, says Rayid Ghani, chief scientist for the Obama
campaign, director of the Social Good summer program, and research director of the
Computation Institute, a joint initiative between the University of Chicago and Argonne.
In January, DAgostino moved to Civis Analytics, a relatively new consulting company
founded by former Obama campaign data specialists. There, he helps nonprofits,
governments and companies learn from their troves of data to meet their goals and
His ability to glean results from big datasets came from physics, of course. Physics
also schooled him in teaching himself what he needed to know to take on tough new
problems in a constantly changing world.
I think theres something about particle physics that trains you especially well, he
concludes. I would not have traded in my experience in particle physics for anything.
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