My Summer with IcemcQC

Name: Victoria Niu

Type: Undergraduate Research

For this summer, I joined Dr.Amy Connolly’s research group studying the ultra high-energy neutrinos in Antarctica. My work for the group is to design IcemcQC, a quality and control for supercomputer simulation, and improve it to better generate simulation result for ANITA group to study.

In my STEP proposal, the name of the project I wrote is AraSimQC, simulation for ARA. However, at the beginning of my professor asked me to focus on another group, IcemcQC, simulation for ANITA. The projects are basically the same, though based on different clusters and used for different detectors in Antarctica. Simulation is a common method physicists use to study the measurement. ANITA is a giant flying detector in Antarctica detecting the ultra high-energy neutrinos which is very rare to see on Earth. Due to the scarcity and big cost, simulation for ANITA is a very important way for scienctifst to find the neutrinos, which is called Icemc project. And my job, IcemcQC, is to write a program so that supercomputer will automatically run the simulation, analysis the data, and generate mathatical plots for ANITA group to study so that they can better improve their dector and simulation.

I was mainly engaged in writing codes this summer. The whole IcemcQC program is made of computer codes written in C++ and Unix. It was not finished by previous QC group and I had to debug and rewrite every parts of the program. I built the new shell environment, finished the plots script, wrote a new IcemcQC plotter, and debugged the rest parts of IcemcQC with the help of two graduate students, Brian Clark and Keith McBride. Now IcemcQC can complete its task thoroughly.

My viewpoint of physics study has changed after IcemcQC project. I am physics major student and I am planning to go to graduate school and become a physicist in the future. But the career of physicists are not as simply as I thought. Times of Enisten when scientists only used pencil and paper has past. Nowadays, it is inevitable to use computers and large-data base in science researches. To be a physicist, you need to be well trained with computer programming skill, good sense of teamwork, and good command of large-data management, which sounds like a computer would do. I have to think whether I enjoy such working or not if I am going to be a physicist. Through the summer project, it seems that I get used to it and accumlated lots of useful skills for programming. Such experience and learning will be greatly helpful in the future career of physics.

Such understanding of physic career first brust out when I was joking with my friend. I was writing a bunch of C++ code for plot script, while my friend asked me what I was doing for my research. I said, “At first, I thought it was something about neutrinos, but I am only writing code every day. Maybe my professor should find someone who is computer science major.” Truly, at the beginning, my professor asked me to build the cluster, which is coding. Then we turned to plot script, C++ coding. After plot script, it was IcemcQC program coding and Unix coding. And the group we were working with, Icemc, is also coding only. It seems that only ANITA is the actual job that is related to physics, while ANITA is also built by computer programs that physics engineers wrote.

I had no ideas about ROOT and Unix before I started the summer project. Even if I have taken one class in C++, none of it really applies outside the class. I have to learn how to write a specific programming and update myself with current supercomputer knowledge. During the project,  I increasingly realized that what I was engaging in would be the life routine of a physicist in the future. I talked with my professor about the confusion I have—what does a physicist do in his job? Do physicists really do calculation and think about physics problems everyday? If not, will I enjoy the new working environment of physics career? The answer from my professor was simply and clear—As physicists, we don’t do physics everyday. Sciencitists nowadays spend most of their time on building mathematic models and then write computer program based on it.

My understanding of a physics career completely transformed when I finished my first Unix project, the IcemcQC Plotter. At first, I intended to keep using the old one by debugging it. However, following the inconsistency, the final version of Plotter has nothing similar to the old one. In other words, I rewrote it all by myself while I don’t feel it is very challenging or non-physicist. Physics and programming use the same thinking process and it is very fun to let a supercomputer to finish the repeated job for you. I start to get used to the modern physics study method and are still willing to pursue a path of physics.

The IcemcQC project is very important to me, as a good experience of doing research and also a better understand of career of physicists. It happens all the time that the things you learn from the class or you think about are different from what it actually applies outside the class. It is necessary to understand your career and the work style of the career you want to pursue before you actually pick it for you life. Presentation (Summer Program)-2o1iqj4

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