Pressing News

Have you ever been to a talk in which the speaker was unbearably boring? Their voice was monotonous, their mannerisms slow, and they were reading verbatim from slides? If this sounds familiar, you must be, or have recently been, a student.

To keep myself from falling into an uncomfortable slumber during lectures, I would write. I would take notes on almost everything that was said. This was relatively easy as the lecturers spoke quite slowly, knowing that most of us were taking down notes. It kept my mind (and the rest of me) awake, and it turned out to be very useful when it came down to revising for the exams.

Taking notes at a press conference however, is a whole different ball game. The speakers talk at an unprecedented rate, making it almost impossible to write anything down in a coherent fashion. I went to my first press conference earlier this week about the latest news from CERN at the British Science Festival in Aberdeen. I’m no journalist, so this was a completely new experience for me, and I think you could probably tell.

The problem with this press conference was that I was so interested in what Dr Tara Sheers, Dr Adam Davidson and Prof John Butterworth had to say, that I completely forgot to write down what they were saying. Once I realised I had stopped writing, and was just hanging on every word they said, I would frantically scribble the last few words I remembered hearing in the hope that it would trigger any memories of the rest.

So I am using this post as a memory exercise, and to see if i can make head-or-tail of my scribblings. I am hoping the bit below looks vaguely like a piece that was written for the press. Any tips on how to improve my journalistic skills would be very welcome! So, here goes…

On the 4th of July 2012 a combined announcement was made from LHC experiments ATLAS and CMS at CERN stating that they had discovered, with very high levels of certainty, a new Higg’s boson-like particle. Since this announcement, physicists have been analysing an increasing amount of data to determine with greater certainty that what they had found was in fact the Higgs boson.

Dr Adam Davidson said “We’re now even more sure that we’ve discovered something genuinely new, but is it the Higgs? We still don’t know.”

What has been confirmed however, is that the LHC will increase its running time by a few months to continue collecting data, and break down the discovery. During the early spring of 2013 it will close for reconditioning, before re-opening the following year. At this point it will be running at twice the energy until 2017. By increasing the energy levels at which the LHC runs, scientists will be able to probe deeper into the structure of our universe. They may find new particles, and potentially a glimpse of super-symmetry. Super-symmetry is the leading theory in trying to understand the nature and behaviour of dark matter, the invisible matter that appears to make up 80% of the known universe.

But this is not all that has been happening at CERN. Dr Tara Sheers, who has been working on the LHCb experiment, is looking at the behaviour of different particles to understand why there is an imbalance between matter and anti-matter. It has been assumed that when the universe was first created it was made up of equal amounts of matter and anti-matter. After approximately the first minute of the universe “popping” into existence, matter seemed to become more dominant.

Of the initial assumption Dr Sheers said “That is our working point assumption at the heart of cosmology. If that is wrong everything is up for grabs.”

The LHCb experiment has been looking at the behavioural differences of the charm and down quarks, two fundamental particles from the Standard Model of physics. What has been noticed is that from a select sample of particles produced in collisions, more matter has been created than anti-matter. Not only that, but the behaviour of the charms and anti-charms are different, where theory says they should be the same.

The next step, according to Dr Sheers, is for the theorists to see if the theory can be reworked to fit in the experimental observations. But even though the significance of the results are not quite high enough to prove a discovery, they are significant enough to give the physicists a clue about why there is a surplus of matter.

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