School of Mathematics and Statistics Maths & Statistics Careers

Tom Atkinson

PhD Student in Physics
University of Melbourne
Graduated 2002

I am a PhD student in the Experimental Particle Physics Group at Melbourne University. The highlight of my career is my involvement in the ATLAS experiment, under construction at the Centre for European Particle Physics, near Geneva. This year I spent six weeks there doing research and development work on one particular sub-system of the experiment. ATLAS will sit at an interaction point of the Large Hadron Collider - the largest particle accelerator ever! This collider accelerates two beams of protons to the highest energies ever produced on earth and then smashes them into each other. ATLAS is a general-purpose detector that watches the resulting proton-proton explosions. Some things that might be produced because of these collisions are miniature black holes, particles that propagate through more than three spatial dimensions, and a swamp of exotic particles not seen in everyday physics.

ATLAS will finally come on line in 2007. My work is in the construction of silicon tracking modules which traces the paths of charged particles through the detector. Another component is the modelling of various physical processes (or particle interactions) that we are specifically interested in observing in the detector when it is operational. I currently analyse the possibility of observing one such very rare process that would explain many physical phenomena that remain currently unexplained.

Mathematics is the universal language in physics. I constantly apply the skills I learned in mathematics in different areas of physics analysis. Everything from geometric coordinate transforms, to group theory and complex vector spaces. All quantum field theories (these describe the basic forces of nature) rely on a sound ability to apply many different mathematical transforms and integrations. The more practical parts of experimental design rely heavily on statistics, parameter fitting and geometric analysis. All in all, inability to master both basic and complex mathematical concepts results in an unsuccessful physicist.

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