A few weeks ago my boss approached me and asked if I would be interested in attending a 4 day long collaboration meeting for an experiment being conducted at Fermilab, Mu2e. Without hesitation and without knowing what the experiment was, I said yes. My rather blind enthusiasm was, apparently, amusing to my boss who laughed but agreed to sign me up. Having just returned from Fermilab, I can confidently say that this initial enthusiasm was well deserved.
In the days leading up the event, I fretted over every little detail. I read up on the experiment, I briefed myself on particle physics basics, and most importantly, I carefully selected an outfit for each day. (It turns out my latter efforts were unnecessary because physicists, who are very casual people anyway, have more pressing concerns than whether gold earrings go with an outfit better than silver. Dully noted.)
The Mu2e experiment’s purpose is to observe the conversion of a muon to an electron and nothing else. This specific conversion is extremely unlikely as predicted by the standard model (which usually predicts the muon decaying into an electron and two neutrinos), so observing such an event would help validate theories dependent on this type of conversion that go beyond the standard model. Going outside the standard model is necessary for understanding many currently unexplained phenomena in physics, such as the existence and prevalence of dark matter and energy.
The first two days of the collaboration meeting, which consisted of “workshops” were pretty boring. Workshops are smaller meetings where people working on specific aspects of the experiment get together and discuss challenges, progress, and future plans. Since the collaboration was been around for a few years already, the finer details were focused on, and the bigger picture was left out. We spent most of our time at the tracker workshops. The tracker is focused on recreating the trajectory of electrons that potentially came from a decayed muon, and, from that, figuring out its momentum.
After two days of workshops, the entire collaboration congregated in a big lecture room and a representative from each sub-team of the experiment updated the rest of the collaboration on the progress made in the workshops. Afterwards, the floor opened for questions or concerns. Everything was extremely civil and respectful, and I was struck by how constructive disagreements could be. I got the impression that, at the end of the day, creating the best experiment is what everyone was really after. This is refreshing in a time when everything seems to get political in some way or another.
I also had the opportunity to interact with more scientists and everyone was extremely welcoming and supportive. On the last day I toured the building where the experiment would be built. An engineer, Dave, showed me and a few others around and I was amazed by the vastness of the building. There is so much that is going into learning more about these tiny particles. I am so excited to be working on this collaboration, and to be involved during this crucial stage. I also feel so lucky to be surrounded by people who will go to great lengths to know the truth.