Thursday, 10 June 2010

Everything is bigger in America

And not just the food! Although the portion sizes are HUGE (I’ve not quite embraced the ‘doggy bag’ culture, yet, but I’m working on it…) The roads to work are all at least dual carriageways, most of them have three or four lanes on each side; as far as I’m concerned, most of the cars look like monster trucks; and even the raindrops are massive. When we went to the supermarket for the first time on Monday, it started to chuck it down as we left – we got absolutely soaked just running from the shop to the car! And when we got in, the raindrops on the windscreen were basically the size of puddles…

Fermilab is intimidatingly large. The site covers over 6800 acres and some of the buildings are a good 5-10 minute drive from each other. There is even a field with a heard of buffalo in it. Yeah, it’s THAT big.

We spent Monday morning going through ‘orientation’, which was evidently a euphemism for ‘please come in early so you can fill in even more paperwork’. The afternoon was spent going through the various safety talks and a video on recognising and dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace; i.e. we spent four hours sitting through presentations on common sense so that we wouldn’t be able to try to sue the US government if anything went awry whilst we were working here. On the plus side, I got to sample the delights of the Fermilab canteen (again, ridiculous amounts of choice and huge portions) and discovered that at 3.30 every day, there is free coffee and cookies! If you’ve ever read any of my previous blog entries, you’ll know that my priorities lie with food, so, needless to say, I was very happy.

I got to meet my mentor, Douglas Tucker, for the first time after the cookie break. He had a colleague visiting from an American university (I can’t remember which one, or the guy’s last name, but I do remember that he was called Alan…) who also stayed to chat to me. I got shown my desk (I have a great view out to the west) and then we sat and talked about what I’ll be doing this summer and also a bit about what previous physics I’ve done (they were very interested in my success at the Intel ISEF and my asteroid). It looks like I’ll start off doing Douglas’s dirty work by learning a coding language called Python, so that I can patch together pieces of code, which he has already written but not joined together yet, for real-time analysis of data. I get the distinct impression that this sounds a lot easier than it will actually be to do… If I manage to get that done, then I can maybe run simulations to determine optimal strategies for calibrating the Dark Energy Survey, with code that has already been written.

The Dark Energy Survey (DES) is an imaging survey of about one-quarter of the sky in the southern hemisphere using a new astronomical imaging camera on the 4-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory (CTIO) in Chile. The DES will be used to measure properties of dark energy - a force which counteracts gravity and constitutes about 70% of the total mass-energy density of the Universe. It's not scheduled to start until the end of 2011, but there is preparatory work to be done, some of it involving imaging data that will be obtained at CTIO in July and August of this year.

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