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Young South African researchers take leading roles at the ATLAS experiment collaboration

- Wits University

Wits’ young scientist (physicists) take front positions in the world’s largest scientific endeavour to generate new science and expand current knowledge.

Young physicists: Dr Edward Nkadimeng working on TileCal electronics. Ryan Mckenzie beneath the ATLAS detector.

The ATLAS experiment, which is one of the largest collaborative efforts ever attempted in order to explore the secrets of the universe, hosts an internal conference in order to assess all aspects of the experiment including research, maintenance and its upgrade. Themed Atlas Week Getting Ready for Run-III, this event is attended by the entire collaboration spanning 243 institutes from 41 countries, including South Africa.

South Africa’s talent groomed at Wits University, Dr Edward Nkadimeng chaired one of the plenary sessions on 21 June 2022 while Wits’ doctoral student Ryan Mckenzie has been chosen to undertake the roles of deputy run-coordinator and then run-coordinator of the ATLAS Hadronic Tile Calorimeter, both putting the continent’s contribution on the spotlight.

The Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, has congratulated the young physicists.

“The appointment of these young researchers comes as the world celebrates 10 years since the existence of the Higgs boson by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. The discovery was made on July 4, 2012,” said Minister Nzimande.

Nkadimeng who was appointed in 2019 by the management of the Tile Calorimeter of the ATLAS experiment at CERN leads the team for the low voltage power (LVPS) project made up of physicists and engineers from the US and Europe. This international team will be delivering on critical electronics for the upgrade of the Tile Calorimeter of the ATLAS detector.

Nkadimeng’s session reviewed tasks including the detector operations, online data selection and processing, data monitoring, calibration and reconstruction, physics analysis, and the upgrade of the detector to the next stages of the experiment. All these tasks are linked, and their results, including any concerns.

“I am humbled by the recognition given the significance of being invited to chair a session at the ATLAS experiment's overview week at CERN. This is, of course, a result of the world-class contribution and the international leadership of Wits University in the field of particle physics,” says Nkadimeng.

Mckenzie, a postgraduate student at the High-throughput Electronics Laboratory within the Institute for Collider Particle Physics (ICPP), will take up his roles from 1 September 2022 up until 30 April 2023 and these encompass the control and management of the entire sub-detector including the co-ordination of over 100 physicists, engineers and technicians. The importance of this role is significant as ATLAS will be undertaking RUN-III data taking during Mckenzie’s tenure.

Mckenzie chaired a session in 2021 ATLAS week focusing on the latest physics developments of the ATLAS collaboration as well as ongoing detector research amongst other topics. The session successfully covered the ATLAS Phase-II upgrade which is to commence in the year 2025 and is focused on preparing the ATLAS detector for the next energy frontier being ushered in by the High Luminosity-LHC

“This event forms a key aspect of what allows the collaboration to span the entire globe and was truly a joy to behold. It was an honour to be selected to fulfil this role, I eagerly look forward towards being part of further contributions made by South Africa,” says Mckenzie.

South Africa in the knowledge community

The SA-CERN programme contribution to the Phase-II upgrade takes the form of high-tech power supplies which provide power to the Tile Calorimeter of the ATLAS detector. These electronic components are produced locally thereby illustrating the world-class ability of the South African electronics industry. The SA-CERN programme is also supported by the Department of Science and Innovation and it is hosted by iThemba LABS of the National Research Foundation.

“We are really proud that young South African scientists have grown to become leaders of our global community,” says Bruce Mellado, Director of the ICPP and senior researcher at iThemba LABS.

The South African electronics industry will manufacture and deploy radiation hard and fast high-throughput electronics to meet the requirements of the Phase-II upgrade occurring in 2025 .

The detector measures the energy and position of energetic particles that emerge from collisions between particles in the Large Hadron Collider. These measurements were used for the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012, for which the theorists that predicted the particle were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2013.

These activities and international partnerships represent an invaluable opportunity for South Africa to train students and to conduct technology transfer to local industry. South African students routinely graduate with training gained through their work at the Tile Calorimeter.

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This article was updated on 4 July 2022.