Umthombo 2 - Page 33



SPOTLIGHT | UCT-CERN
words, it will be able to produce five
times more heavy-ion collisions. In
many ways, this will be a quantum leap
for the LHC experiments and increase
the capacity for new discoveries
immensely.
In addition, these new technological
advancements will allow scientists
to collect all the data generated by
ALICE; at the moment, they have to
throw away 95% of it because the
computers installed 10 years ago were
too slow.
The new system will handle 100
times more data – about three
terabytes per second – which means
the software for processing it will also
have to be rebuilt.
South Africa’s
responsibilities
South African institutions are
shouldering responsibility for three
areas of the upgrade to ALICE: readout
electronics for the muon identification
detector, data processing for the
transition radiation detector, and lowvoltage power supply and distribution
for the muon tracking detector.
“On the muon detector, our
focus will be upgrading the readout
electronics: taking the data from
the detector and transferring it to
computer files,” explains Dietel. “On
the transition radiation detector, it’s
mostly about what we want to do with
the data once it’s in the computer.
Basically, building software that can
process it.”
As far as power supply for the
muon tracking detector goes, Dietel
explains it in terms of plugging in a
laptop and admits that it sounds like a
boring job.
“Essentially, we are plugging
the electronics into a power supply.
However, this becomes a bit
complicated if, first, you’ve got 1 000
electronics. Second, your power
supply is 10 or 20 metres away.
Third, you want to remotely control
everything.
“And lastly, you’re pretty much
locking away your whole system for 10
months per year for the next 15 years –
so it needs to work for a long time.”
UCT’s responsibilities lie mostly
with data processing for the transition
radiation detector. UCT’s Department
of Electrical Engineering will also be
involved in the readout electronics
upgrade.
A network
of expertise
Dietel has no illusions about the steep
learning curve lying ahead for SACERN, in general, and UCT, in particular.
However, he sees it as an immense
opportunity for growth.
“We get to tap into a huge network
of expertise. CERN is an amazing
environment to work in, in every respect.”
TWO EXPERIMENTS to understand the nature
of the universe
Beams of particles travelling in opposite directions at
the speed of light shoot into each other inside the Large
Hadron Collider (LHC). When they crash, they create
debris in the form of new particles that fly in all directions.
Detectors along the collider record this particle debris.
Two of them are ALICE and ATLAS.
ATLAS: looking for the
smallest units of matter
What are the basic building blocks of matter? What are
the fundamental forces of nature? These are the sorts of
questions – essential to particle physics – that ATLAS
(A Toroidal LHC Apparatus) tries to answer.
ATLAS is designed to exploit the full potential of the
physics opportunities that the LHC provides and to test
the predictions of the Standard Model of physics, which
explains how the basic building blocks of matter interact.
ALICE: recreating the
early universe
By crashing massive ions – such as gold or lead nuclei
– into one another, ALICE (A Large Ion Collider
Experiment) tries to recreate the state of matter predicted
to have existed in the earliest moments of the universe.
Quark–gluon plasma, as it’s called, last existed billions
of years ago, a fraction of a second after the big bang.
Whereas particle physics and ATLAS are concerned with
the most basic building blocks of the universe, ALICE is
concerned with heavy-ion physics and how those
building blocks make up more complex systems.
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