Week 3 Update: Murphy’s Law and the end of training

One thing I have realized since starting work on PREX: I never believed in Murphy’s Law until I spent three weeks at JLab. Murphy’s Law was popularized with the release of the movie Interstellar; it more or less says that, in any situation, anything that could possibly go wrong will go wrong. I’ve already outlined many of the technical issues that we’ve had, namely the two vacuum issues and the helium leak. To top it all off, last Monday, we got word that JLab had lost power. Apparently, the energy company that supplies electricity to the entire lab had a blackout (or something, I’m not sure of all of the details) so we lost power to the entire hall. This ended up being a bigger deal than it sounds, because it meant the cryo system lost the cold nitrogen and helium that we use to keep the target chilled so the intense radiation beam doesn’t fry it to a crisp. Therefore, even though we were supposed to be running the beam all of last week, we did not.

Obviously, this was absolutely devastating to everyone who works here and has real responsibilities and deadlines. Fortunately, I am not one of those people. My job this summer is more or less to familiarize myself with the experiment so I know what’s going on by the time CREX (the same experiment, but with a calcium target instead of lead) starts running in the fall. So, what exactly did I do when everyone was trying to fix everything? I took advantage of the beam-down time to do a walkthrough of the hall, which was one of the last components of my training. Along with two William and Mary graduate students, I was led on a tour of the massive underground (really underwater, because we live in a swamp) hall that houses the beam line, calorimeters, targets, and detectors. I’d been there before during a conference in January, but it was amazing to see all of the components since I’ve spent the past month reading about them, seeing pictures, and analyzing their data. And today, I finally rounded out my training with a practical demonstration of how to operate the computers that control the targets.

So, what next? Theoretically, I have completed all of the training necessary to start taking shifts, during which I will be in charge of monitoring the targets and their cooling systems, responding to any alarms, and moving the targets if necessary. However, the experiment is only scheduled to run until the end of August, and all of the shifts have already been filled. I’ll still plan to shadow part of a shift to get some hands-on experience, but it’s unlikely that I’ll actually end up taking my own shift this summer. However, the procedure for CREX in the fall will be essentially identical, so I will be able to hit the ground running when the time comes. As far as PREX goes, everything seems to be working right now, so we should (fingers crossed!) get beam, and therefore actual data, in the next few days.