The Large Hadron Collider — the greatest adventure in town
Particle Physics usually only hits the headlines when a new particle is discovered or some similar breakthrough. The principal reaction is rightly one of awe, as something fundamental seems to have been achieved generally by lots of people joining forces. The scale and indeed cost are striking, but what is often overlooked is the stunning range and magnitude of the benefits to wider society. In this book we unravel these sometimes surprising benefits with the help of many leading experts both in science and beyond.
Much of the cutting edge research in particle physics is now done at CERN near Geneva, which has been transformed in recent years from a European to essentially a world research centre. The two big experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) called ATLAS and CMS are rich in examples of outcomes that impact society at large in different ways.
World Scientific's latest book, The Large Hadron Collider homes in on the ATLAs Experiment to illustrate how and why this process happens, why it has an importance well beyond traditional spin-off and how it adds new meaning to the cost of this research and to the value of international collaboration.
CERN laid down a marker on how society can benefit from its research in the previous generation of experiment. The scale and global reach of its manpower led to the development of the World Wide Web, to enable physicists around the world to analyse results from CERN, an invention that has changed the world. Although individual developments from the latest round of experiments are not so dramatic, so far at least, the collective effect of all benefits makes a real difference. The Large Hadron Collider draws its inspiration from films made for the ATLAS experiment by its author, notably the 2012 production The ATLAS Story: Impacts of its Science, Innovation and Organization. In the process of production, many of the experts who feature in the book were identified and recorded. Later further contributors were interviewed as more issues surfaced.
A celebrated historian of science and an authority on Albert Einstein, Professor Juergen Renn of the Max Planck Institute in Berlin was filmed at length. He explains here how the practice of science has changed since the days of the solo pioneer, with nowadays huge teams of thousands collaborating in particle physics. This leads to a different sociology, one of the areas where ATLAS has broken new ground by doing without a traditional hierarchy. it all hinges on dealing with problems or challenges by building teams ad hoc around that problem. Juergen Renn also highlights how the equipment of fundamental science provides a different and useful perspective on history and evolving ideas.
The late Professor Max Boisot, an economist skilled at thinking outside the box and across disciplines, was entranced by the success of ATLAS and its organization. he and Management experts Gabriel Szulanski of the celebrated INSEAD institute in Singapore and Julian Birkinshaw from the London Business School add insights from outside physics on why the enterprise at CERN has something special. Gabriel Szulanski sees a parallel in motivation with a wartime research environment and resulting in similar successes. The ten chapters of the book span areas as diverse as medical benefits from particle physics, economic gains for industry and society, a leading role in the next IT revolution called the Grid (a version of Cloud Computing) and models for international collaboration. The concrete examples which permeate the book bring each of these areas to life, for instance in showing how people from countries which are barely or not on speaking terms work happily together in science.
In the medical field a highly original project was developed at Cambridge University in which the computing system created for analyzing results from ATLAS was applied to increase the effectiveness of radio-therapy treatment for cancer. A link up between the engineering department, the oncology departments at the university and the local hospital, and the particle physicists enabled two major projects to get off the ground, driven by the inspirational head of the ATLAS team Professor Andy Parker (later to become Head of the celebrated Cavendish Laboratory). A quite different venture sprang from the hardware of the ATLAS inner detector at Marseille's Centre for Particle Physics. A start up company was set up to realize the potential of the special pixel detector from ATLAS in medical and other applications. If this is a more conventional spin-off, what was striking was how the world-wide contacts built up at CERN help build a team with the best engineers – crucial to the project's success.
A different insight into how industry benefits comes from electronics giant ST Microelectronics. (STM), Much of the engineering needed to build a state of the art detector like ATLAS involves research, in materials, electronics and more. The Vice-president of STM, Carmelo Papa, explains why a major global player such as STM with huge contracts in space projects took on an ATLAS contract for a particular component. It wasn't really for commercial reasons, but to benefit from the technology push from a project working at the limits of engineering required by CERN. Their aims were fulfilled. They also gain from the prestige of CERN and being associated with "the club" of CERN contractor.
There are several areas where CERN and ATLAS physicists dominate the innovation. One is in IT, where computing power is linked up across the world to provide enough resource to handle all the data from ATLAS. This requires deciding at different stages what data to keep, how to manage access and security, and how to handle different national situations which often have their own computing strategies. Dario Barberis, who managed ATLAS computing for many years, recounts how the CERN culture also came into play in ensuring that countries which sometimes contributed little still had a role. There were also benefits in specific countries; Professor Maria Teresa Dove from La Plata University in Argentina tells how their participation in the ATLAS Computing GRID revolutionized the computing infra-structure in Argentina.
ATLAS physicists participate widely in teaching, where interest in fundamental physics has soared since the Large Hadron Collider increased its profile. This is manifest by attendances at lectures and in visits to CERN by schools and students generally. Political benefits can accrue too, which is illustrated by an Israeli physics teachers project which resulted in an Arab teacher in Israel winning a prize. Many more examples add flesh to these insights. The role of the media is also explored, with CERN physicists appearing to be much more media aware than many other scientists. This links in to the international nature of all the teams within the ATLAS Experiment. People build up informal networks which entail embracing a world perspective on many issues, or a broader view of challenges which includes an understanding of the importance of the media both in informing a wider public but also in keeping politicians up to speed on CERN.
The three leaders of the ATLAS Experiment over the years explain their vision for the experiment and some of the issues they confronted. They are called "spokesperson" rather than leader to reflect the soft hierachy of ATLAS, but they do lead in several ways. Peter Jenni was the first Spokesperson and his style of building a consensus is credited with enabling the project to get off the ground in the first place. He recalls some of the trials of getting the innovative design and the funding accepted early on, and how bringing in non-European countries notably Japan and the USA helped transform ATLAS into a truly world project. The second Spokesperson Fabiola Gianotti, who was later to become the first woman Director General of CERN, saw the international nature of ATLAS as adding more than manpower and resources, but also a variety of approach as countries bring different traditions to the project. Everyone seemed to revel in having friends around the world.
The third ATLAS Spokesperson, Dave Charlton, looks to the future in the final chapter. This is now pure research in terms of finding new particles, unlike the search for the Higgs particle which was predicted – and discovered triumphantly in 2012. The search for dark matter particles and for extra dimensions of space fire people's interest, but with an increase in beam energy and intensity within the Large Hadron Collider comes a new set of challenges. High among these is the pressure on computing power stemming from the increase in data produced. There is also the corrosive effect of increased radiation which affects particularly the inner detectors of ATLAS. In the book we hear from many of the people who have to grapple with these challenges, and how often surprising issues and benefits start to emerge.
Written by Andrew J Millington and edited by Markus Nordberg, Thorsten Wengler and Rob McPherson, The Large Hadron Collider: The Greatest Adventure in Town and Ten Reasons Why it Matters, as Illustrated by the ATLAS Experiment is on sale in major bookstores, including Amazon, and retails for US$78/ £65 and US$38 / £32 (pbk). For more information on the book, please visit http://www.worldscientific.com/worldscibooks/10.1142/q0040?utm_source=eureka_alert&utm_medium=press_release&utm_campaign=eureka_q0040.
To request a review copy of the book, please email Amanda Yun at [email protected]
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