My Week: Dr Mike Lamont

Beams behave themselves, and one of the physicists working on the Large Hadron Collider gets the beers in
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The Independent Online

Monday

I am operations group leader for the beams department in Cern's accelerator complex in France, which includes the famous Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

I've been working here for about 20 years now, 10 with the LHC itself. Today starts at 8.30am and is always a "meetings from hell" day. As you can imagine it's pretty chaotic this week and my day is dominated by tests on the LHC from the Cern control centre to prepare for tomorrow's experiment. I finish at 7.30pm and I go home to my wife and 16-month-old daughter, Erin. She's just starting to talk. My wife is Austrian and a physicist too.

Tuesday

I get in at about 5am and things are looking quite good. We inject the beams at low energy and delicately ramp them up to 3.5 TeV (tera-electron-volts), but then we have a power converter trip and lose the beams. The second ramp fails as well and we lose a full quarter of the ring. This looks really serious. The control room was absolutely packed, cameras on, the media running around interviewing everyone – having a potential disaster in the middle of this media circus is stressful to say the least. Also, my wife is following at home by webcast. In the morning when we kept failing she was texting me "boring", "boring", and other such encouraging comments. The third ramp goes very well, and at about 12.58pm we bring the beams into collision for the first time. There is a huge wave of relief and big cheers go round all the control centres. We declare "stable beams" and the labs turn on their detectors for readings. We get half a million collision events in three or four hours. In the evening there's an informal party in the control room. I run down to the supermarket and clear them out of their British beers and crisps, and finally start to relax.

Wednesday

The next day at Cern is amazing. I have a bit of a hangover for the 8.30am meeting, but it is very much back to business. We carry on with our commissioning programme for future LHC tests. As I'm constantly sleep deprived these days, I go home early and play with my daughter in the garden. It's finally springtime here after a long winter and the garden is covered in primroses, so we potter around and play football.

Thursday

I have a quiet morning and catch up on some paperwork, but stay late – it's beer and pizzas in the control room at 9pm. There is a big group of people and a really good atmosphere after our success. I grew up in Portsmouth but did my PhD in Liverpool, so was dragged down the Kop many times. My mate back in Rochdale texts me the Liverpool-Benfica Europa Cup score all evening. Unfortunately, we lose 2-1.

Friday

I have a much-needed day off and head down with my family and some friends to somewhere near Chambéry – no laptops allowed! We play bridge and then catch up on some sleep.

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