Lauren Yeomans is a PhD student with the University of Liverpool working on the Large Hadron Collider beauty (LHCb) experiment at CERN. The LHCb experiment aims to explain the differences in the abundance of matter and antimatter in the universe. It is one of eight current Large Hadron Collider (LHC) experiments at the Centre for European Nuclear Research (CERN) located in Geneva, Switzerland and specializes in studying b quarks.
The Young Scientists Journal was fortunate enough to interview her on her work at CERN.
What is your role at CERN?
I am currently working as part of the LHCb collaboration. LHCb (Large Hadron Collider beauty) is one of the four main particle detectors on the LHC ring at CERN, Geneva. Our detector is specifically designed to allow us to focus on physics involving a b (bottom/beauty) quark*. In my particular working group, we look at very rare particle decays to try to find anomalies that might point to hints of new, undiscovered particles or phenomena. As part of the collaboration, we must all do detector shifts as well as our physics analysis. This means that we all take it in turns to monitor various aspects of the LHCb detector to make sure that everything is working as it should. *A bottom quark is a type of elementary particle with a charge of -1/3e.
What drew you into the field of particle physics?
Ever since childhood, I have been interested in ‘The Big Questions’; What is the Universe made of? Why does the Universe behave the way it does? How did it begin, and how will it end? I studied Physics with Philosophy at undergraduate level as I felt as though this combination would give me a varied perspective on these questions. Throughout my undergraduate degree, I felt myself drawn towards particle physics, I found it so interesting that in order to truly understand what is happening on the vast scales of the universe, we must first look at the smallest components and figure out how they behave.
What question or challenge were you setting out to address when you started your research?
In the particle physics world there are hundreds of different particles, that in turn decay into thousands of different combinations of particles. All of the probabilities of these decays are collected in one place, the Particle Data Group (PDG) database. Once we have an experimental result it gets added to the PDG, and we can compare our numbers to the numbers that are expected, calculated by theorists. My research focuses on one of these decays, which does not yet have a rate in the PDG: Bs->MuMuGamma(Strange Bottom Meson -> Muon + Muon + Gamma ray photon)*. There is a known theoretical prediction for this decay, but it has not been measured experimentally yet. Once we have the experimental results we can see how well they line up with the theoretical predictions. If they line up well then we can confirm that our theoretical model is correct. If they don’t, this might be a sign that there are new, unpredicted and unknown physical phenomena going on. Everything we do will hopefully bring us one step closer to understanding how the universe works. *This decay agrees with The Standard Model, which is the current theory of the constitution of matter.
What is your favourite aspect of your research?
I love the fact that each day is different. Whilst there are some aspects that are routine, as with any job, each day brings unique challenges and I find that exciting. I learn new things every day about computing, physics, maths, engineering, and all sorts of other things. I also love taking a step back sometimes and remembering the true reasons why I am doing what I am doing. Outreach helps with that, I really enjoy taking people on tours of CERN, and talking to the public about what I do. Sometimes I get asked questions by members of the public that I hadn’t even considered!
Is there any advice you would give to a reader interested in the field of particle physics?
Feed your curiosity! This is the biggest piece of advice that I can give. Read books, ask questions, keep learning. Particle physics involves answering questions, yes, but it is equally as important to ask questions that no one else has thought of. In practical terms, I would advise to make sure that you study maths and physics to A-Level (or equivalent), and pursue a degree in physics. This will enable you to specialise in particle physics when It comes to your Masters degree and PhD.
Is there any advice you would give to women interested in going into STEM?
I think it is important for girls and women to realise that they are just as capable of pursuing a career in STEM as anyone else. In my experience girls seem to give up on physics at quite an early stage, as they see it as a male-dominated subject. And whilst this is true, we are never going to change that unless we make a conscious effort to break the mold! I studied physics simply because I found it interesting, and if you also find it interesting, nothing should stand in the way of you reaching your goals, least of all gender!
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thank you for spreading the word about the joys of science!
A Word from the Author
Particle physics is an incredibly exciting branch of physics that studies the particles that form the foundations of the universe. After my own visit to CERN, I discovered the innate passion many have for the field and the joy of making groundbreaking discoveries. Through this interview, the Young Scientists Journal hopes to inspire other young people to venture into and excel in the field.
About the Author
Shannon is a 17-year-old A-level student with an interest in astrophysics and the planetary sciences. Outside of academics, she enjoys coding, reading, and learning languages. She is the Subject Ambassadors Lead for the Young Scientists Journal, based in London, England.