Sunday, July 26, 2009

Science monitor

A few days ago (despite being on holiday) I had to join a three hour conference call. The reason for this was to train me up to be a SciMon (I think it stands for Science Monitor). Very soon the LIGO detectors will be starting their sixth science run (a period when we stop, to an extent, fiddling with the detectors to improve them, and take data for astrophysical analysis) and during these periods we need people to be monitoring them. The detectors have full time staff who are trained to operate them, but during science runs we also have a scientist there to monitor, and comment on, the state of the data that's coming out i.e. if the data gets noisier, or glitchy, can you see a reason for it (an earthquake for example). These things can be fed back to the operators to see if they can improve things in the detector, and they are also very useful when analysing the data to know the time of good, or bad, data quality.

In previous runs I've haven't taken the SciMon role, but this time I volunteered to go out for a couple of weeks. So in October I'm going to be spending time at the LIGO Hanford Observatory. During the conference call I actually learnt quite a lot about the detectors that I only vaguely knew before, so I think being at the detector will be a valuable learning experience. I also found out that SciMons have a lot to do during the 8 hours shifts that you take (the detectors require 24 hour monitoring, so there's a midnight-8am, 8am-4pm and 4pm-midnight set of shifts - I managed to get the most reasonable middle time slot). It should be interesting being out there and I expect I'll write a few posts about the experience (there's a few months to go yet though).