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From the SLAC CRO
Word of the Week: Particle

SLAC Today

Friday - November 20, 2009

From the SLAC CRO

(Photo - Keith Hodgson)

So just what is a "CRO"? In the corporate world, CRO can have many meanings—Chief Risk Officer, Chief Restructuring Officer, Chief Revenue Officer and Chief Research Officer among them. It is this latter definition that fortunately for me defines the role of a CRO at SLAC and typically at the other Department of Energy national laboratories. I was appointed SLAC's Chief Research Officer by SLAC Director Persis Drell in September and it is a real privilege and opportunity for me to serve in this capacity (in addition to my continuing role as SLAC Associate Laboratory Director for Photon Science).

In this brief article, I want to talk about the nature of this new job, both in the context of SLAC and in the broader DOE National Laboratory system.

The CRO is another of the O's that are a central element of the laboratory's management structure. Under the leadership of Persis (who has a role analogous to a Chief Executive Officer in the corporate sense), SLAC's Chief Operating Officer Sandy Merola, Chief Financial Officer Susan Calandra, Chief Information Officer Don Lemma, Chief Safety Officer Craig Ferguson and the Chief Research Officer (myself) have roles and responsibilities that support, coordinate and represent important activities cutting across many areas of the laboratory.

At SLAC, some of my own specific roles and responsibilities as CRO include coordination with the lab director and COO on topics of mutual concern that relate to SLAC's research agenda. I am also responsible for coordinating the science and technology component of the Annual DOE Laboratory Plan and for the annual PEMP science and technology goals. Another area of responsibility is in coordinating the development of international agreements and Memoranda of Understanding in scientific areas relevant to the lab's mission. I will also coordinate the annual Laboratory Directed Research and Development process, interfacing with others who expertly manage aspects such as the external peer review. 

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(Image - particles)
(Image: Symmetry magazine.)

Word of the Week: Particle

Particles are tricky to detect, much less define. Atoms and molecules are particles, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, as are small parcels of land. The Environmental Protection Agency's definition covers everything from pollen and sand to the tiny grit created in volcanic eruptions. The word has an entirely different meaning for grammarians, and is also the name of a jam band from L.A.

Within the subatomic realm, the meaning is only slightly more clear cut. The tiniest of known tiny things—quarks, leptons and bosons—are described as particles, but so are slightly less tiny things such as mesons and baryons. So for physicists, more appropriate words are elementary particles and composite particles, with elementary particles being the indivisible uncuttables (the quarks, leptons and bosons) and composite particles being bundles of the same (mesons and baryons).

All of this begs the question though—what's an elementary particle? According to SLAC theoretical physicist Helen Quinn, it's something we simply don't know.

"The idea of an elementary particle is something that does not have substructure or even any size," Quinn said. "The guess is that quarks and leptons are structureless, but we don't know that for sure. On some very tiny scale they may indeed be made of something else."


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