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Talk Like a SLACer

SLAC archivist Jean Deken manages SLACspeak, the database that lists just about every acronym used at SLAC and more. (Photos by Calla Cofield. Click for larger image.)

Acronyms will fly at the B Factory Symposium next week: Do you know what a PAC is? Or the difference between a DCH and an RPC? If not, don't panic. You can look up all those pesky acronyms on SLACspeak, the online database that lists just about every acronym used at SLAC, as well as other befuddling science terms, and words and phrases from the history books.

SLAC archivist Jean Deken has managed SLACspeak for 12 years, and has seen it grow to include more than 5,000 entries. She says a new word or acronym is submitted about once or twice per week. New employees, who aren't familiar with the local jargon, are often the ones to point out terms that haven't been added yet.

Why so many acronyms? "I think people here just don't have time," says Deken. "Everyone is busy and they need to communicate faster." New acronyms and terms often pop up as an experiment or project begins. The Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope collaboration created its own database of terms and acronyms, because the sheer volume of additions from that project would have overwhelmed SLACspeak. The FGST was previously known as the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope, so GLAST is now one of many historical words listed in SLACspeak.

The SLAC community values these historical terms just as much as the commonly used acronyms, says Deken. "People are curious to understand and appreciate the environment they are working in. They want to know how we got here." SLACspeak includes items such as the legendary Project M, the first name for what is now the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Like many corners of SLAC lingo, the origin of Project M is a matter of debate. "I've talked with people who were at the first meeting," says Deken, "and some of them say the M stands for 'Monster' and others for 'Multi-GEV.' " SLACspeak includes both.

The scientific terms in SLACspeak were originally compiled by Phillipe Argouarch of the SLAC Accelerator Department. In the 1970's, Argouarch created a handwritten (and later typed) glossary of SLAC science terminology for incoming graduate students. Many terms that were in use at the lab were too new to appear in science textbooks, or were specific to the lab. When then-archivist Robin Chandler started SLACspeak in 1990, she included Argouarch's glossary.

Many users look to SLACspeak for information about the laboratory. Contractors and subcontractors often request printouts to carry around when they don't have internet access. Hard copies can still be obtained from the archives office, or at the SLAC library circulation desk. You can request your own to carry to the B Factory Symposium, so you will have no problems talking to a Physics Analysis Coordinator (PAC) about the difference between a Drift Chamber (DCH) and a Resistive Plate Chamber (RPC).

—Calla Cofield
SLAC Today, October 22, 2008