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Friday, Sept. 12, 2008

Celebrating the Dawn of the New Physics

Click image to view a slideshow of the party

September 10, 2008, the day that CERN finally sent proton beams around the 27-kilometer circumference of the powerful new Large Hadron Collider, started at 9:00 in the morning in Geneva, which was midnight Pacific Time. At DOE’s Fermilab, the staff dressed up in pajamas and partied in real time, while at Brookhaven on the East Coast they caught the end of the day at CERN by celebrating in the morning. But the day’s main events, the circulation of twin beams of protons in opposite directions, were already long over in Europe by the time most Berkeley Lab staff came to work.

As latecomers, it looked for a while as if West Coast scientists would miss out on the best part of the party. Not at all. Hundreds of Bay Area scientists and engineers and their guests from Berkeley Lab, SLAC, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, and the University of Washington filled the gallery space of swissnex, an adjunct of the Swiss Consulate, in downtown San Francisco for a well fed and very loud good time.

Swissnex founder and director Christian Simm, himself a former physicist, welcomed the crowd by revealing an object that, like a collection of quarks, was “strange, charming, with some color – could it be the Higgs boson?” No, it was the swissnex logo emblazoned on a big red ball. SLAC’s David Harris took over as MC and introduced Berkeley Lab’s Steve Gourlay, director of the Accelerator and Fusion Research Division; David MacFarlane, deputy director of particle phsyics and astrophysics at SLAC; Winston Ko, dean of mathematical and physical sciences at UC Davis; and impromptu speakers from UC Santa Cruz and even the University of Washington.

After the brief remarks and numerous toasts, Harris directed attention to the big-screen, real-time link to Seth Zenz, a Berkeley Lab physics postdoc with the ATLAS collaboration who has been in CERN for 18 months. Zenz's lively eyewitness account and photos of the day's events were a high point of the evening (which was his very early next morning).

The rest of the evening was spent in animated conversation, enjoying excellent food and wine provided by swissnex in an art-gallery atmosphere hung with giant photos of components of the LHC accelerator and the ATLAS experiment built at Berkeley Lab, and LHC artwork from symmetry magazine. Meanwhile a replay of the day’s events was projected on the big screen; overloaded web connections to CERN earlier in the day had caused some interesting glitches in the video (one wag said it looked like a black hole was eating the CERN control room) which merely added to the entertainment.

Jim Siegrist, Berkeley Lab’s associate laboratory director for general sciences, had the shortest remarks of the evening, but they were the most pointed. He conveyed the appreciation of all present to NSF and DOE for their faith and support of U.S. participation in the Large Hadron Collider “for all these years.”

For more about U.S. participation in the LHC, go here. Visit the swissnex website here.