Hi there! I’m Giles, the early-stage researcher selected for the Lisbon position in the AMVA4NewPhysics network. As I’ll be posting here for a few years to come, I thought I’d use my first article to introduce myself.

thumb_IMG_2513_1024My interest in physics began in 2003 when I watched “The Elegant Universe” by Brian Greene. This three-part TV series introduced me to the amazing world of quantum mechanics and string theory. Around the same time, I read Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy and “The Science behind His Dark Materials” by Mary and John Gribbin. The trilogy is a fantastic read and I highly recommend it, but “The Science behind…” details, as one might expect, the scientific basis for the concepts the story is built on: parallel universes, entanglement, and dark matter. If these served to sow the seeds of scientific interest, then my school and teachers provided the sunlight and water; encouraging, occasionally humouring, my constant desire to go beyond the syllabus, even letting me bring in a prototype railgun I’d built for the school science fair (sadly it was better at melting things than firing them…).

I eventually discovered CERN and the Large Hadron Collider, the biggest machine man had ever built that was going to unlock the mysteries of the Universe; I had to work there and be a part of it. I was lucky enough to visit it for the last open day before it first switched on and go underground to see the beam pipe firsthand.

My destination set, I focussed on my studies and secured a place at Durham University to read an integrated master’s in theoretical physics.

Durham

I got my first taste of particle-physics research during my final-year thesis at Durham. The problem was to optimise and compare top-taggers; algorithms used to determine whether or not a jet (collimation of particles) resulted from the decay of a top quark. At the time there were a range of taggers available and my job was to find which was best. To do this I used the SHERPA Monte Carlo generator (a program used to simulate particle collisions) to produce test data, and applied a range of optimisation methods to adjust the taggers’ parameters.

Whilst my thesis was well received, I unfortunately let myself down in exam grades and left Durham with a lower second degree. Unable to continue directly into a PhD (upper-second minimum for UK funding), I was accepted into a postgraduate master’s by research at The University of Glasgow.

Glasgow

At Glasgow I finally got my hands on real data from the LHC working as part of the ATLAS group. My research involved comparing ATLAS data to the predictions of several Monte Carlo generators in an analysis sensitive to the gluon-splitting to b-quark-pairs process. Previous studies by both ATLAS and CMS had shown that this process was poorly modelled by Monte Carlo, particularly in the region of low angular-separation between b-quarks. With the LHC undergoing an energy upgrade, it was expected that production in this region would increase during Run 2. My research involved digging into how the generators work to find out where this miss-modelling occurs.

My time at Glasgow proved to be a great experience and having graduated I was delighted to be offered a position at Laboratório de Instrumentação e Física Experimental de Partículas (LIP) in Lisbon to pursue my PhD studies as part of the AMVA4NewPhysics network; a collaboration between various institutions across the world to develop and apply cutting-edge analysis techniques to the search for New Physics and to the study of the Higgs boson.

Beyond academia

Outside of physics I am a keen musician, playing guitar and bass, and am gradually developing my skills in recording, mixing, and mastering. At both Durham and Glasgow I practiced Shorinji Kempo, a Japanese martial art, and look forward to life in Lisbon where there are five dojos which teach it. I really enjoy travelling, which is lucky given the number of secondments and extended stays I expect to be involved in over the next few years. I also program for fun, and this was actually how I first got into programming – teaching myself Visual Basic at school by writing games, encryption tools, and even a rudimentary chat-bot. Currently I am learning to use Java and developing my understanding of machine-learning methods by writing artificial neural networks.

Well, that’s it for this post. I’ve got a few ideas for upcoming articles, but please comment if there’s any topic you’d be particularly interested in finding out more on.