April 28, 1994
Vol. 13, No. 17

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    Graduate students play integral role in search for top qu

    Chicago graduate students played an integral role in the search for the top quark.

    "The thing about being a grad student in this collaboration is that you're really there in the trenches," said David Saltzberg, a fifth-year graduate student who was part of the CDF collaboration. "When something goes wrong, we're the ones who find the right wire to wiggle or the right board to shake. We're very much a part of making the whole thing happen."

    Chicago's major contribution to the project was designing what's called the "trigger," a device that identifies the most interesting events of the 250,000 collisions that occur every second. Saltzberg and three other graduate students, Sacha Kopp, Jim Romano and Jinsong Wang, worked on designing the software that selects the (on the average) two events each second that are interesting enough to record and study.

    Graduate students on the project work round-the-clock in three shifts, because when the experiment is working well, data are collected 24 hours a day. "While we were collecting data, we had to carry pagers in case something went wrong," said Saltzberg. "At 4 a.m. you would get beeped, and the car would be covered with snow, and you would have to drive out to Fermilab."

    Wang added, "It was actually a relief when we got to hand off our beepers to the next set of graduate students -- we finally got a chance to analyze our data."

    In spite of all the long hours and hard work, the students are thrilled to have participated in the search for the top quark. "I grew up reading about fundamental particles -- it's pretty amazing to actually be a part of discovering one," said Saltzberg.