From discussion to publication
In this work we discuss how collisions of oxygen nuclei could be used to discover an important signature of the formation of very hot and dense nuclear matter even in very small collision systems. The experimental observable in question is the modification of the spectra of very high momentum particles. These particles originate at the very first instances of the collision and, for example, in proton-proton collisions can be reliably calculated with our knowledge of particle physics. In collisions of large nuclei, for example, lead or gold, there is so much of hot and dense nuclear matter in the way, that these energetic particles lose a fraction of their energy trying to pass through. However, in smaller collision systems such energy loss is smaller and so far it has evaded clear experimental detection. The proposed oxygen-oxygen collisions in the next run of the Large Hadron Collider could change this!
I am immensely proud of and excited about these papers. There is a number of reasons of why this work is special to me. First, these papers are a result of a great collaboration with my fellow CERN scientists. It all started late last year, when we decided to replace the usual coffee talk with some serious scientific discussion. From the original questions to the final results it took us just over half a year. It might look relatively long, however this project is special, because it was not a continuation of an ongoing work. Rather, we identified an important existing problem in our understanding and attempted to solve it.
Second, for me this project required stepping out of my usual comfort zone and picking up completely new techniques. It helped immensely that CERN Theoretical Physics Department has many experts I could turn to for an advice. In fact, one member of our team does not normally work on heavy-ion physics, but whose expertise was invaluable to the project. All around it was a great team effort with all of us helping each other.
Finally, I believe that our papers make a very concrete (experimental) proposal of how to address an existing problem and a careful theoretical calculation to back it up. The very idea that my work might have a direct effect on the running of the largest scientific machine in the world, the Large Hadron Collider, makes me very excited. Of course, all of this is my personal subjective opinion, as the value and quality of scientific work is judged by peers and time. However, at very least, I am proud of the work I have done.