The Young Experimentalists and Theorists Institute ’08


One of the fantastic perks of being a student in Durham is the chance to attend a number of great workshops held throughout the year [1]. Today was the beginning of one of each year’s best programs: the 2008 Young Experimentalists and Theorists Institute (YETI’08).

Every year (and sometimes twice a year) the workshop presents a `pedagogical introduction to a particular area of topical interest in particle physics.’ The themes are always at the interface of theory and experiment, reflecting the unique strengths of the host institution. Speaking of which, this is the 5th annual YETI and the 101st conference hosted by the IPPP.

The target audience consists of postgraduate students who have finished their coursework and have started to dive into their research. Notably, the meeting organizers also hail from this group. Incidentally, this is the same group of people that benefits the most from something like YETI to look forward to as they return to work from their holidays. 🙂 [2]

Like every other school being held this year, the theme was the LHC—in particular, applying lessons from the Tevatron to the LHC. Today featured a series of 30 minute talks about various aspects of collider physics. It was a bit experimental for my tastes, but I did learn a lot about how experiments work. [3] (If I get a chance, I’ll blog a bit about triggers, which caught my interest.) Tomorrow’s talks will focus on beyond the Standard Model and I’m very excited.
But the feature of YETI that sets it apart from any other similar program that I’ve heard of is the emphasis on hands-on sessons with computer tools in HEP. The entire afternoon session was dedicated to working with MadGraph and MadEvent, including exercises and guidance from members of the MG/ME development team. (Tomorrow’s afternoon session will focus on SHERPA.)

This computer session has been a staple of every YETI workshop. Broadly, event generators and monte carlos are the interface between theorists and experimentalists [4]. Here’s an illustrative conversation between a theorist (Theo) and an experimentalist (Elsa) from M. Herquet’s MadGraph presentation:

Theo: I have a fantastic model for TeV physics and I would like you to test it.

Elsa: Great! What do the signal events look like?

Theo:  No idea… but here is the Lagrangian.

Elsa: What do you want me to do with this?

Anyway, let me put it another way: these hands-on sessions are really helpful. The exercises were illustrative and pedagogical, and nothing beats having the software developer roaming around the room answering questions about installing, running, and modifying their code (and offering insights about how it works). The few hours spent working with code probably saved me several tens of hours of troubleshooting the next time I use these programs. [5] By the way, another note for undergraduates interested in particle physics: before you graduate, know how to program and be familiar with linux. [6]

To the best of my knowledge, no other school or workshop offers this opportunity, let alone one that focuses on postgraduate pedagogy and is totally free for UK students. As mentioned in previous posts, programs such as these also go a long way to strengthening the UK physics community by allowing young researchers to network with one another and form the foundations of tomorrow’s scientific collaborations. Kudos once again [7] to the IPPP and the YETI organisers for putting together such a fine program, and to the STFC: yes, this is worth funding.


[1] See, for example, reports on the Annual Theory Meeting 07 and 06.

[2] Indeed, the YETI is a fantastic way to get back into the swing of things in the same way that the Annual Theory Meeting is a fantastic way to begin the holidays.

[3] Some good background reading for theorists include T. Han’s TASI ’04 lectures on collider physics and the `signatures primer.’ To really dive in, one might consider the text by Ellis, Stirling, and Webber as well as Professor Peskin’s collider physics course. (I haven’t adequately perused these last two resources, but I certainly trust the authors!)

[4] Indeed, monte carlos in collider physics recently became a hot trend over the past few years in the American phenomenology community. The shift  developed as the interest in models with extra dimensions began to peak and researchers wanted to `be prepared’ for the LHC. This sentiment is exemplified by events such as the LHC Olympics.   This is not such a big deal in the European community, since they’ve been the ones developing these tools long before Americans thought it was hip. Euro-chic. 🙂

[5] The past few weeks I’ve been on the verge of tearing my eye-balls out from staring at code. It speaks volumes about the program that I was so excited about the hands-on sessions that I stuck around even after they had finished.

[6] This is actually really important. You don’t actually need to know a lot about programming or the *nix environment, but you need to be very comfortable with all of the basics.

[7] An embarassing personal anecdote: This is actually my second YETI experience. My first YETI was March ’06 (there were two YETIs that year), involving a [self-funded, don’t worry STFC] flight from San Francisco to the UK. My ulterior motive was to find an excuse to visit the department in Durham and to speak to a faculty member about the possibility of being his student and probable research topics. He is now my adviser, so this worked out quite nicely. (Added bonus: I got a proper taste of the Durham winter.) What I’d failed to predict was the severity of jetlag that I was bound to acquire. I ended up looking like a zombie during the talks, and people were quite amused by the American who flew all the way from San Francisco just to fall asleep during the YETI talks. I was terribly embarassed when someone recognized me at the 2006 December Annual Theory Meeting (“You were that American who showed up to YETI!”). So if you remember me from YETI’06, don’t think of me as a bum!


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