Monday, 18 June 2007

Almost done!

Yes thats right my friends, my time here in Switzerland is almost done!

On Friday the 13th of July at 17.30 CET I will cease to be employed by CERN, I will cease to work for the PH/AID department, I will cease to be a Technical Student and I will be going home!

Work has been pretty manic over the last week or two. The project that I have been working on for the last few months is called TPCC [Time Projection Chamber Configuration], This project is entirely my own work and I was given a great deal of freedom with the design and implementation. I'm happy to report that TPCC was recently used intensively in the testing of 8 chambers (1/4 total) of the TPC here at CERN.

TPCC, is an extremely decoupled system with multiple entry points that was designed to be used in undefined environments to manipulate front end electronics via the "DDL" which is a full duplex fiber link. It uses a server, client and a control system. Each client listens for commands from the server and performs various functions, in parallel using restricted linear recursion to attempt to transparently recover from errors (after all, these electronics are pretty new)!

The officially preferred system for configuring the TPC is using something called the DCS or Detector Control System though I'm pleased to report that it was TPCC that was used just last week for the commissioning of the TPC. This involved very intensive testing of my software, and I'm glad to say that apart from two (related) bugs which were fixed on site, it performed very well and has been praised by people far above my pay grade - apparently they were rather surprised when informed the system was designed and implemented by a student in a few months!

The scary thing for me is the data that was used to do the configurations. After all, this is the data that scientists will crawl over now to clarify that the TPC is working correctly and that it is ready to "go live" when the real experiment starts. The configuration data (were talking configuration data for well over a million sensors here) was also created by me. In one night, hacking away writing a little program in C that spits out (currently) 160,000 Lines of SQL for insertion into the database. This data isn't checked or validated by anyone and whilst the (vain) student in me rejoices at the opportunity the engineer in me shudders.

I consider myself very lucky to be at CERN, I'm one of five Britons picked to be here this year. I consider myself even more lucky to be working in PH/AID and the project that I am involved with. My work is being discussed at high levels and has real potential to make a genuine contribution to the development of the Time Projection Chamber and high energy physics. I'm not sure where the credit ends up for all this but so long as part of it rubs off on me, I'm happy.

Thank you CERN


  1. My new book (fiction), 'The Ancient Order of Moridura' ISBN 1844264068,
    postulates a nascent black hole caused by the gravitational anomaly created by a a meteor impact in Exremadura.

    See for details.

    There seems to be some risk of black holes, however miniscule, being created by the LHC in 2008. If a black hole does result, it will boost my book sales, but the
    destruction of the solar system will make collection of royalties difficult.
    Life's a bitch sometimes ---

    Best wishes with your future career!


    Peter Curran
    Edinburgh, Scotland

  2. Richard Shipman19 June 2007 at 20:45

    Congratulations Rob, I seem to remember several months ago you were scoffing at the possibility that your code would even be considered to be used in preference to the DCS in full production. I just wonder how we're going to keep your ambition and expertise in check when you come back to us in Aberystwyth. You have been a real credit to the department, and I look forward to seeing you in classes again soon.