A Study in Fahrenheit (The Weeks in Review, March 13 – 25)

Our treacherous refrigerator.

I reached into the freezer to grab one of the waffles. It compressed under the touch of my fingers. Frozen waffles aren’t supposed to do that. Frozen beets aren’t supposed to leak juice out of their sealed bags. Frozen mugs aren’t supposed to be half-liquid.

An application of a thermometer revealed what I dreaded. The freezer was hovering around 38F. The fridge compartment was at 45F. The refrigerator was not working right. I glanced at my watch. I had a few hours before my flight. That wasn’t enough time to do anything useful. So, I pulled the garbage can over and got to work disposing of food. All the dairy had to go. The bags of once-frozen vegetables had to go; such things don’t survive a thaw and a re-freeze. Before long, I had half-filled the garbage bin outside with ruined or highly questionable food.

This was the start of my trip to Argonne National Lab, back on March 14. Things got a lot better after that inauspicious beginning. My time at the lab was great, though bittersweet. My weekend when I returned home was a mix of yard work and fridge shopping. My return to SMU this past week was busy with a seminar and a prospective graduate student visit, as well as lunch with prospective SMU President’s Scholars interested in physics, math, or biology and biochemistry.

It was an interesting couple of weeks.

Argonne National Laboratory

The trip from DFW to O’Hare (ORD) was uneventful, if delayed due to bad weather causing backups in air traffic control.

We made our approach into Chicago about two hours late. The snow storm that had swept through the area the day before had left air traffic control backed up, so they were delaying flights to accommodate the additional burden of air traffic due to the previous day’s cancelled flights. I was in no particular hurry. I wanted very badly to get to Argonne in time to have dinner with some colleagues, one of whom is leaving the field to go work in data science (and who has been a mentor to my graduate student, P, who is based at Argonne working on ATLAS hardware and physics analysis). But I wasn’t upset that we were delayed. This happens in air travel, with all those planes in the air and all those variables to deal with on the ground.

We descend into O’Hare airport on final approach to Chicago. The city looked beautiful down below, with broken clouds hanging over the landscape.

The landing, though, was spectacular. Clouds hung over Chicago, though there were many breaks between them. Snow lay on the ground. As we descended, I snapped pictures of the city. I love flying, when I remember that there are things of beauty outside the window.

I arrived at the brewhouse near the lab in time to eat some pizza and have a couple of good beers with my student and our colleagues from Argonne. It was fun to talk and catch up, but bittersweet knowing that one of my ANL colleagues was leaving the field. This had caused some disruption in our mutual plans – the work that my student and I do in conjunction with the experts at the laboratory – but part of my visit was to help understand the path forward and make sure there was continuity and an understanding that we are still looking forward to continuing mutual and joint work on ATLAS. Being able to spend time working with colleagues at Argonne has been a delight, as they are working both on interesting detector hardware and interesting physics ideas. There is overlaps in my physics interests with theirs, and since Argonne is host to an ATLAS analysis center it’s rewarding for my student to be there until he can be at CERN later this year.

For fun, one of my Argonne colleagues took us on a tour of an old accelerator complex at the laboratory, not far from the offices where we work. I shot a panorama of the tunnel that once held the accelerator (see below). I love accelerator tunnels. Not only did we have to go underground and walk around a little (in dim and dank corridors with long cable trays running along the wall) to get there, but we could walk the entire length of the accelerator tunnel itself given its relatively compact size. This was once the home of the “Zero Gradient Synchrotron,” or ZGS. You can learn more about it from Ref. [1].

A panorama of one section of the tunnel that once held the ZGS at Argonne National Laboratory.

On the Friday of that week, I had dinner in Oak Park with some old friends. I’d not been to that part of the Chicago metropolitan area before, and it was nice to get outside the lab a little and stretch my legs (and my car’s tires) for a change.

Back in Dallas

I returned to Dallas the following Saturday morning. I went refrigerator shopping and got that problem sorted out as quickly as I could. I also used the weekend to catch up on yard work, including making a new flower bed and planting in some existing ones. This was also a chance to get the trusty drip watering system back up to par and check on the rain barrels, which are still going all these years after I first set them up on the side of the house. The weather here has been beautiful, going as high as 88F this past week. Of course, it’s nice now but given the weather patterns across the globe driven, in part, by man-made climate change this likely is also the harbinger of a terrible, awful summer here in North Texas.

A busy week at SMU

The week was busier at SMU than I had anticipated it would be. We had a great seminar on Monday from Sean Bryan, a post-doctoral researcher at Arizona State University working on using novel technology to observe microwaves from the big bang and distant galaxies. His big bang experiment, “Spider,” is likely to have something new to say in the coming year or so about what is called “B-mode polarization” – a thumbprint of gravitational waves that should have been left in the light from the big bang. Such a feature would tell us a lot more about how the universe evolved – especially about how it might have inflated from a quantum-dominated scale to a macroscopic scale in under a second.

We were also visited by a prospective graduate student mid-week and at the end of the week the University held its interviews for the Hunt and President’s Scholar programs. These are undergraduate candidates who’ve been accepted to SMU but also need to interview additionally for consideration for these scholar programs. I always like meeting these students and their families, who also participate in the events of Friday and tour the school while their children are busy with their interviews and classroom visits.

The coming week is my last one before I start traveling again. I’ve used this weekend to catch up on more yard and house work. The weather is still beautiful, and though I’m dealing with some kind of running-induced hip injury I am trying to spend some time moving around outside. Today, however, was mostly a day for recovering from this annoying mobility limiting problem.

[1] “History of the ZGS (Argonne, 1979)”. A. D. Krisch, Argonne Universities Association, Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory. ZGS Users Group
American Institute of Physics, 1980 – Science – 453 pages.

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