Searching for Knowledge by Monitoring the Collisions of Particles

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CERN, located near Geneva, Switzerland, is the European Organization for Nuclear Research, physicists and engineers who are working to determine the fundamental structure of the universe. They do so by studying how particles interact when smashing them together or against stationary things at the speed of light in their Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

There are many experiments conducted using this amazing collider ring, including an experiment called ALICE. ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment) is designed to understand the formation of quarks. You have probably have heard of particles, atoms, and the nucleus of the atoms which comprises of protons and neutrons surrounded by a cloud of electrons. If you double-click into these tiny protons and neutrons, we are told that they are made of quarks which are bound together by gluons. When these experiments are run, millions of particles collide against each other in a mere second—so you can only imagine how many protons, neutrons, and even these tiny-tiny quarks are being monitored to help bring understanding to the team of scientists running the experiments.

When we take a few steps back from these quarks to look at the LHC itself, there are several sensors used to collect time-stamped data to show change over time of the various components of the LHC in order to improve efficiency for things like energy use, structural health, or even temperature levels. Think about it—smashing particles generates a lot of heat—at temperatures a lot hotter than the sun, so they need to use sensors to help maintain specific temperature levels for the experiments as well as use this information to prevent the system itself from overheating.

And finally, all this data from the collision activities as well as the LHC sensor data is fed into various applications for collection, analysis, and taking action on the findings. The data and their applications are sitting on servers, connected by networks, stored in databases, being queried by the applications, etc. This requires that each of these components be monitored to ensure that failures of any component can be addressed quickly.

All these controls are put into place in order to keep the LHC and its experiments moving along, because things do happen—even little rodents and birds have been known to cause a disruption of service—and it is important for the team members to be able to quickly identify the cause and manage them appropriately.

If you are interested in learning more about how CERN manages these critical projects, you can listen to Adam Wegrzynek, a Senior Engineer at CERN, give an overview at InfluxDays London 2018 on how InfluxDB is involved in the monitoring of accelerator systems, experiments and data centers. He will go into detail of the monitoring system upgrade that helped to ensure the high efficiency of the experiments’ 2000 nodes, processing data at 3.4 TB/s which are constantly monitored at an incredible 600 kHz metric rate. These metrics are collected and aggregated by Flume and Spark and eventually stored in an InfluxDB database, which was selected in an extensive evaluation process.


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