Before I delve into what I spent the final week of my internship doing, I wanted to give a brief summary of the KOTO experiment. If you don’t recall, the KOTO experiment is an international endeavor to measure the rare K-Long -> Pi-zero Nu Nubar particle decay in order to compare experimental measurements with the predictions given by our current understanding of particle physics. A couple times a year, the different groups from around the world meet in person to discuss important developments concerning the project at a three-day event called the Collaboration Meeting. I attended this meeting in order to give a presentation that detailed the upgrades currently happening to the project’s data acquisition system (DAQ). While the development of the DAQ primarily occurs at the University of Michigan (where my internship was located), the actual data taking is done in Japan at the J-PARC facility. As such, the Collaboration Meeting was held in Japan and I received a wonderful opportunity to travel outside the country!
After a long 12-hour flight and a 3-hour bus ride, I finally arrived at my destination, the small village of Tokai-mura. My first impressions? Japan is not America. Painfully simplistic, I’m aware, but there were just so many differences that it’s hard to concisely and accurately describe the variations between the two. The architecture of the houses and the way the roads zigzagged across the land, the day-to-day interactions with people, and of course the local cuisine were all very different from America (Tokai in particular is by an ocean, so a lot of my meals consisted of fresh fish).
Compared to other places I’ve been, Tokai has an interesting quality to it. Dotted with crop fields and containing various parks and temples, the town feels bustling with nature – which at times can make it easy to forget that it also contains a half mile long particle beam. While it’s standard practice to build facilities that produce radioactive materials far away from highly populated areas, I couldn’t help but think of the weird duality this creates. On one side, Tokai represents some of mankind’s greatest technological and scientific advancements, along with our growing ability to probe the nature of the universe; on the other hand – a few blocks away from J-PARC you might be biking through a rice paddy at sunrise next to a soaring swan (at least it looked like a swan).
Of course, the purpose of my visit wasn’t to see Tokai-mura but to learn more about the KOTO experiment. As such, part of my trip was spent seeing the facility that houses the particle beam. When I entered the building, the first sight that greeted me was a giant chasm filled with all manner of construction equipment and electronic doodads. Maybe I’ve seen one too many James Bond movies but my initial impression was that the facility looked more like a typical villain’s lair than expected.
Seeing the main-barrel didn’t help with my initial impressions either. The main-barrel is a big, blue vacuum-sealed chamber where the K-Long -> Pi-zero Nu Nubar decay occurs. To give a sense of its scale, it has a diameter of about feet 10 and is roughly 20 feet long, so big in fact that I couldn’t get a proper full-body picture of it.
The next day, the Collaboration Meeting began. At first I was a little nervous to give my presentation; the entire audience was not only more educated than me but also had more experience with KOTO. Fortunately, my presentation was scheduled for the second day of the conference, giving me time to examine and learn from others. After internalizing my mentor’s famous words, “Remember – you’re the expert,” I was able to shake my initial nervousness and get into the swing things (even managing to a have a few of my jokes land).
For my final day in Japan, I woke up early in order to bike around Tokai. The morning was quiet and the air nice and crisp, a perfect time to gather my thoughts about the past few months with the KOTO project. Because of this internship – I learned how to code, I learned useful organizational skills, and I learned how to effectively work on a team. Skills that will prove useful as I continue studying physics.
I send my thanks to Myron Campbell, for accepting me onto the team (despite my limited experience in coding) and being my mentor this internship. I thank my various KOTO co-workers for being a pleasure to work with. I thank the LSA Internship Program for allowing me to share my experiences with all of you.