The MacGuffin

Archive for March, 2011

The Perks of Work

Posted by Lauren Rugani on March 30, 2011


I haven’t updated in a few weeks, mostly because I haven’t been home! Work is going really well and I’ve gotten to do some pretty unique things lately.

Last week a film crew from the TV show Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman came to CERN to film on location and interview a scientist. It’s our office’s job to host any US media that come to the lab, so I basically tagged along with the crew all day and got to see them in action.

In the morning we filmed on top of the water tower, which was just beautiful, although I was slightly unnerved by having to climb up a ladder and through a hatch to get to the roof, where nothing was keeping us there except a thin handrail. We went to a few other places on site and it was interesting to see how a TV show gets made. They film the same things over and over again, from different angles, and not at all in the order they will appear in the show. I can’t wait to see the final version!

Last night I went to the US Mission to the UN to hear a talk by US astronaut Steve Smith. He’s logged nearly 50 hours on spacewalks and flown more than 16 million miles in the space shuttle. I was able to chat with him for awhile after his talk (and told him my brother works on the engines – had to brag!). I also met a lot of people from CERN and other organizations around Geneva.

Apart from these days where I get to do really cool things simply because of my job, I’ve been writing a lot. For those of you who haven’t seen, these are my first three stories:

SUSY search still going strong

Buzz Aldrin visits the LHC

Rare particle decays could indicate presence of new physics

I’m also continuing to learn French, both with online lessons and because I have several hours of meetings each week that are conducted almost entirely in French! Nothing forces you to learn like having to take notes!

Sorry for all you New England folks, but the weather is just beautiful here. This weekend should get up to 70 degrees, and I plan to fill it with hiking, barbecuing and chocolate. I went to Zurich last weekend, but I’ll save that for a different post, along with pictures once I finish putting them together.

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Can’t Catch a Break

Posted by Lauren Rugani on March 19, 2011


I know most of you own (or know someone who owns) a little book called A Piece of Mind. Go find it.

Now turn to the page about Rugani vacations and read it.

Read it again.

Done? Good. Now multiply that by a hundred. That is what this experience has been like for me since day one.

Don’t get me wrong, I am having an absolute blast. I’ve been to beautiful cities and the scenery is breathtaking. I’ve met a small group of people to share these experiences with. I really love my work.

But I feel like the Karma Gods really don’t want me here. Let me start from the beginning.

October 2010 – Received verbal offer for position at CERN. Tentative start date: November 15, 2010.

November 29, 2010 – Received written offer for position at CERN. Tentative start date: January 17, 2011.

December 2010 – Swiss visa secured.

January 2011 – French visa denied, because someone filled out the paperwork in Paris incorrectly. Instead of asking for the correct information, it sat on someone’s desk for almost 2 months. Solution: wait 4-6 weeks to reprocess, or travel to Switzerland anyway. Took option B. Start date: TBD.

February 2011 – Travel authorization from U.S. denied, pending completion of online safety training course. I followed the directions to create an account and could not log in. Again because someone failed to submit paperwork properly, there was no foreign travel request in my name so I was unauthorized to participate in said online safety training course.

Account set up. Safety training completed. Second request for travel.

I cannot travel because my payroll is not set up. Fed-Exed my passport to Chicago because they would not accept scanned copies of ID documents.

Passport returned. Travel booked. Official start date: February 21, 2011. 4 months after initial offer.

February 18, 2011 – Flight delayed.

February 21, 2011 – First day of work. Went to the user’s office to apply for CERN ID. The person legally allowed to sign the paper and the three people below him who could sign in his absence were all conveniently out of work that day.

Second attempt  – Signature acquired. They saw I had no French visa, would not issue a CERN ID. Thanks to my boss, who gently but firmly reminded them that it was their fault I had no French visa, and that someone in their office told me I could come without one, they agreed to issue my ID.

Ongoing, February/March 2011 – Impossible to open a bank account in Switzerland as an American citizen. Solution: Open a bank account in France. Problem: Without a French visa, I cannot live in France. French banks are in euros. If I had a French bank I would have to pay to exchange USD to euros, and again to exchange euros to Swiss francs. Plus I would have to find a way to get to France while the banks were open. Not a reasonable solution.

Ongoing, February/March 2011 – Housing is impossible to find in Geneva. I visited at least 2 or 3 apartments after work each week. Finally I found one that was within my budget. A bit far from work, but doable.

March 13, 2011 – Moved from CERN hostel to new apartment. There was no bed. I slept on the floor.

March 15, 2011 – Roommate/landlady sent email informing me that her sick mother would be coming to live with her, and in fact I could no longer stay there. Update: there was now a bed in the room.

March 16, 2011 – Found a new place to live. Higher rent, but more convenient commute.

March 17-18, 2011 – Withdrew large sum of money from the bank so I could pay rent when I moved into the new place. (I did not, thankfully, pay anything up front to the first place.) Said large sum of money went missing from my wallet. Several suspects, no proof. Must withdraw the same amount again, costing me nearly one month’s salary in a span of 3 days. (Not to mention 3 weeks of salary for the 3 weeks I spent in the hostel. I’m losing money by the second here.)

Today – moving day. It is pouring rain.

The End.

Epilogue: Somehow, despite all of these things, I have remained relatively calm. I am trying to maintain the attitude that what is beyond my control is not worth getting upset over. Despite the ridiculous regulations, Geneva is a beautiful city and I manage to keep discovering new things and places. In fact, now that I’m broke I’ll probably spend a lot of my time just wandering around with my camera, discovering even more. Losing all that money will set me back for awhile, but it’s just money. I’m not starving, freezing or without shelter. I prayed that whoever has the money now took it because they were starving, freezing, or without shelter. I prayed that they will realize it was wrong and ask for forgiveness, and I prayed for their forgiveness.

However, if some rich douchebag took the money and used it to by an Armani suit or a bottle of champagne, the Irish in me prayed that the fleas of a thousand camels infest his nether regions.

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Two Weeks, Two Countries

Posted by Lauren Rugani on March 6, 2011


I’ve been in Switzerland for two weeks now and it’s amazing how much I’ve seen. I went on four more tours at CERN to learn about the various experiments and they were all incredibly cool.

Thursday I spent the entire morning the control center, where they (obviously) control the various components of the LHC. I learned how complex it really is to circulate a beam of protons around a circle 11,000 times a second! They have to control the exact position of the protons with magnets, otherwise the beam could stray off course and blow a hole right through the pipe. They also have to control the exact fraction of a second that they shoot new protons into the ring so that they are in step with the protons already there. There are dozens and dozens of screens on desks and on the walls that are constantly updating with information about all the parts of the accelerator. People there watch them closely for any sign of a problem so that they can either correct it right away, or “dump” the beam before it causes any serious damage.

In the afternoon I went to an experiment called ATRAP, where they take anti-protons and positrons (the anti-matter equivalent of the electron) and bring them together to form anti-hydrogen. This experiment was the inspiration behind Angels and Demons, where they steal vials of antimatter and try to blow up the Vatican. Unfortunately there are no glowing blobs of antimatter floating around, but the premise is the same – very powerful electromagnets control the position of the anti-hydrogen and can theoretically keep it there for days, weeks, months or years so long as the power supply isn’t cut. Once the scientists figure out how to trap enough of it (about 1000 atoms – nowhere near enough to cause any damage) they will shine lasers on it and measure the absorption spectrum (come on, think back to high school chemistry) to see if it looks like normal hydrogen. Depending on the answer, they will know a lot more about the state of the universe and why we are made up of matter and not antimatter.

Friday morning I tagged along with a high school tour, where we went to an area called SM-18 that houses spare accelerator parts and models of the accelerator. I had been there once before but the guide was really knowledgeable about the history of the accelerator and the functions of the various parts. He also had a great way of explaining the scale of things. For example: the protons travel so fast that if light left earth and hit another star 2 light years away, the proton beam leaving at exactly the same time would only arrive 2 seconds later (that’s like .9999999991 the speed of light). Also, did you know that the LHC is both the coldest AND hottest place not only on Earth, but in the universe? The cryogenics keep the accelerator pipes just a fraction above absolute zero, and when the protons collide inside the detectors they create energy more intense than in the center of the Sun. (That will be a question on Jeopardy some day, mark my words.)

Then we went to the computer center where they keep the servers that store all the data from the proton collisions and send it all over the world. This is also the building that showcases the computer used by Tim Berners-Lee, the man who invented the World Wide Web.

After lunch I went to another experiment on the LHC called ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment). It’s much smaller than ATLAS and CMS, the experiments I saw last week, but no less impressive. Instead of protons, ALICE studies the conditions created by colliding lead ions together (which are dozens of times heavier than protons). They create a substance called quark-gluon plasma, which are the particles that make up protons, and were thought to have existed for the first 400,000 years (short by the universe’s standards) after the Big Bang, until the universe expanded and cooled down enough for them to coalesce into protons and atoms.

I was completely exhausted after these two days, so Friday night I got to bed early to rest up for my day trip to Lyon on Saturday. Five of us met up at the train station around 7 am and took the two-hour ride to Lyon, which is the second largest city in France, after Paris. It helped that the day was gorgeous with blue skies and balmy temperatures, but the city was just beautiful. It was very French in every sense of the word. Traditional architecture, ornate and intricate details on everything, bistros and pastry shops everywhere. (The first thing we did was find a place to have coffee and croissants.) We walked to the Saone river (just west of the Rhone) and then to the old town — narrow cobblestone streets and centuries-old buildings with secret passages. We walked up a long and steep flight of stairs to the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere, which is without a doubt one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life.

We took a long and relaxing lunch at one of the restaurants and had a very traditional Lyonnais meal. I had a Lyonnais salad, which is greens, bacon, croutons and a poached egg; blanquette du veau, or veal stew; and a caramel custard for dessert. Of course, we washed it down with a nice glass of Cotes du Rhone red wine.

After lunch we took the subway to a few other parts of the city, the shopping district, an old bohemian village and a park. We came full circle back to the place we had breakfast, and the streets were much more alive. Music was playing, the bars started opening, people were milling around and going to dinner. There was one street with carts of seafood set up outside restaurants with guys shucking oysters and selling fresh seafood. We left Lyon around 930 and got back to Geneva rather late, but the trip was well worth it. Definitely a place I’ll visit again.

Today I slept in for what felt like the first time since I got to Geneva, then rode into the city to look at more apartments. I found a place that I really like, is in an amazing part of town, AND is within my budget. Keep your fingers crossed for me that I’ll get it!

Turns out my blog is not so friendly to me uploading hundreds of pictures, so I put the full set from Lyon on Facebook, and then a smaller set of my favorite pictures here on Flickr.

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