Experiment, theory meet at collider summer school

Students are meeting at Fermilab for two weeks for this year’s Hadron Collider Physics Summer School. Photo: Reidar Hahn

The Hadron Collider Physics Summer School (HCPSS) made its biannual visit to Fermilab over the past two weeks, with a goal of uniting collider physics theory and experiment in the minds of graduate students and young postdocs.

“Experimentalists and theorists really work hand in hand on two ends of the same problem. There’s a lot of interaction there,” said the school’s co-chair Richard Cavanaugh, of Fermilab and the University of Illinois at Chicago. “It’s the marriage of these two communities that is really important to help the field progress.”

Cavanaugh and school co-chair John Campbell, of Fermilab’s Theory Group, hope this approach will help students understand their respective work with a broader perspective, which may be especially important at this stage in their careers.

“You spend a lot of time doing your particular thing for a Ph.D.,” Campbell said. “You get to know the details of your subdetector or your analysis code or your calculation. Sometimes you can lose a little bit of the big picture.”

Eighty students, the majority of whom come from outside the United States, have joined this year’s series of lectures, discussions and activities, led by both Fermilab and visiting scientists and covering a spectrum of collider physics topics. Social activities have allowed participants to network within each other’s areas of study. Feedback from the students has been positive, said Campbell and Cavanaugh, and the lectures have generated lots of questions and discussion.

Fermilab and CERN jointly produce HCPSS and alternate hosting the annual event. When Fermilab last hosted HCPSS in 2012, the Higgs particle discovery had only just been announced, so a major theme of lectures this year has been teaching the students about the reality of the Higgs and how it has shifted our understanding of particle physics.

“The school will definitely evolve in new directions as we understand the new data from the LHC,” Cavanaugh said.

The two co-chairs will now join previous HCPSS chairs on its international advisory committee to help plan future incarnations of the school. Both are eager to find out what discoveries will be discussed in two years when it returns to Fermilab.

Troy Rummler