Well...
At the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab for short,
protons travel around a large ring of superconducting magnets. Using
these magnets, the speed of the protons, and therefore their energy, can be
controlled. In the ring, groups of protons are sent in opposite directions,
some clockwise and some counter-clockwise. Since protons are very
small compared to the space they are flying around in they usually pass by
each other on their way through the ring, but sometimes... they collide!
When a collision occurs, the protons disintegrate into lots of other
particles. This is where the Silicon Vertex Detector at the CDF facility,
one of the projects we work on here, becomes important because it can
track the path that these particles take. The CMS project that we are also
involved with serves the same purpose for CERN's Large Hadron Collider.
From the information provided by these detectors on how the new particles
travel out of the rings we can determine important properties about them
such as charge, energy, and momentum. By studying such things, physicists
are able to get a clearer picture of how the universe works. Here at
Purdue we study these detectors and how outside effects such as radiation
alter their performance so that better detectors can be built and more
precise data about particle collisions can be taken.