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Posts Tagged ‘collaboration’

Expérience de taille à Dubna !

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Les 15 et 16 janvier derniers nous fêtions le 40ème anniversaire des accords bilatéraux de l’IN2P3 et du JINR de Dubna, l’occasion pour nous d’évoquer un épisode de cette longue collaboration.

Les physiciens savent se montrer pragmatiques lorsqu’ils font face à un problème inattendu, particulièrement en URSS dans les années 1970… Catherine Thibault, chercheuse au CSNSM d’Orsay (Centre de spectrométrie nucléaire et de spectrométrie de masse), nous raconte un épisode de recherche qui le démontre brillamment !

Départ du CSNSM - ©CSNSM

Départ du CSNSM - ©CSNSM

En 1974, dans le cadre de l’étude de la fission nucléaire, une équipe du CSNSM dirigée par Robert Klapisch (le papa de Cédric oui !) voulait mesurer la production des différents isotopes de rubidium et césium produits lors de la fission de l’uranium 238 par des ions lourds. Les expériences eurent lieu à Dubna, au JINR, l’équivalent du Cern pour les pays de l’Est. Dans un premier temps, il a fallu acheminer tout le matériel, dont un ordinateur américain (PDP), ce qui nécessitait une autorisation d’exportation temporaire en URSS (pour seulement 8 ko de mémoire !), que nous avons pu obtenir.

La partie principale était un spectromètre de masse permettant de séparer en quelques centaines de millisecondes les différents isotopes de rubidium ou de césium produits par la fission d’une cible. Ceci permettait de mesurer leurs différents taux de production.

Arrivée à Dubna -

Arrivée à Dubna - ©CSNSM

Bien que le spectromètre contenant la cible ait été positionné avec le plus grand soin, aucun signal n’était observé… jusqu’à ce qu’une cible de rechange placée quelques centimètres au-dessous de la cible-source ait été trouvée détruite par le faisceau ! Nous devions donc baisser le spectromètre de quelques centimètres ce qui posait un problème de taille puisque ce dernier était déjà réglé à son minimum de hauteur. « Qu’à cela ne tienne, ont alors dit les collaborateurs russes, nous allons abaisser le sol ! ». Chose dite, chose faite avec une remarquable efficacité… C’est au marteau piqueur que l’on a attaqué le sol de béton !

L’expérience a ensuite très bien fonctionné… Et les données obtenues analysées puis publiées, ont servi de base à une thèse. Qui a dit que les chercheurs étaient de doux rêveurs ?

— anecdote fournie par le Centre de spectrométrie nucléaire et de spectrométrie de masse (CSNSM), unité mixte de recherche du CNRS/IN2P3 et de l’Université Paris Sud, dans le cadre des 40 ans du CNRS/IN2P3.


–by T. “Isaac” Meyer, Head of Strategic Planning & Communication

I am in Japan again. The sun rises early through fog and then sets early in a sea of chalky pastels. And what I am thinking about on this visit is global leadership. And not because of the Euro debt crisis or the silly antics of American politics or even the struggles of Canadian government as it tries to keep believing in a bright future amidst all this.

I’m thinking about how the nature of effective global leadership is starting to change. In the traditional view, a leader is a person up front, giving directions, listening to feedback from the team, and providing an overall sense of direction while representing the team to the outside world. Sometimes the leader will walk among the ranks and comment from the back of the room about how it’s going. But it is really only in the past few decades that we’ve seen “leadership from the back of the room” start to take off. What is it? Its where the leader puts himself or herself at the service of the group. Where the leader is mostly just listening and then identifying when consensus or agreement appears to be present. A leader “from the back of the room” would ask questions and make requests of others to present ideas or propose pathways for action.

In an article a few years ago, some economists called this “collaborative advantage.” They noted, “Strong possibilities that the nation can benefit by developing ‘mutual gain’ policies. Doing so requires a fundamental change in global strategy. The United States should move away from an almost certainly futile attempt to maintain dominance and toward an approach in which leadership comes from developing and brokering mutual gains among equal partners,” (L. Lynn and H. Salzman, “Collaborative Advantage,” Issues in Science and Technology, Winter 2006, p. 76). They say this collaborative advantage,  “…comes not from self-sufficiency or maintaining a monopoly but from being a valued collaborator at various levels in the international system.”

What does this have to do with my global travel this week? Well, I think Japan is in the process of taking on a leadership at the “back of the room” for the entire world. Traditionally, Japan has been a leader out in front by being extremely focused and very dedicated. In science and technology, Japan leads and invites others to follow after it has a leadership position. But in a modern world where everyone is competing and everyone needs a partner, it is the countries who can get other countries to work together that will ultimately succeed the most.

I’m here for the KEK/TRIUMF Scientific Symposium, an annual event where the two labs on either side of the Pacific Ocean review opportunities for collaboration on accelerator-based science. This time, though, there is a difference in the air. Both laboratories are looking for opportunities that are concrete and truly joint: where together they can offer a combined research or development capability that they wouldn’t be able to do individually. For instance, both TRIUMF and KEK provide beams of muons that are used for characterizing the magnetic properties and behavior of novel nanomaterials. In the next round of upgrades, both labs will assist each other with implementation and commissioning. But rather than collaborating to ensure that each has a complete and working system, the labs could partner so that they have complementary capabilities—and then send some of their users to the OTHER lab when those special capabilities are needed. This may sound obvious and it may sound trivial, but it is a profound shift. It’s like having the Chevy dealer tell you that for your needs, you really need a Ford and he/she will give you a ride over to the Ford dealership for free.

And so, globalization and the flat earth takes another step forward. Japan is looking for partners in science, Canada is looking to develop “collaborative advantages,” and Greece struggles to choose a premier. We will have peace on this planet sometime soon!

On a personal note, I have to say that this has been one of my more difficult trips to the Big Island of Japan. I am on a short-term eating plan (aka diet) to trim some weight and more importantly, interrupt my habit of eating everything in front of me. So for each very elegant and hand-crafted meal I sit down to at Japan, I am picking and choosing what I can actually taste and eat to minimize carbs and sugars. *sigh* I must come back again to fully savour this beautiful and noble country!


Life in science, in Science

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Just a quick note here to point out a very nice article by Adrian Cho in Science magazine about life in the trenches on ATLAS and CMS, the biggest LHC experiments. I think it captures the working environment very well — it’s a fascinating balance of collaboration and competition. Beyond that, I’ll let Adrian, and the physicists he interviewed, speak for themselves. Enjoy!


Sorry, terrible title, as it references an ancient slogan for a now-defunct car brand. But what do you want — it’s the Friday before a holiday weekend!

Today marked the end of the June CMS week, one of three full-on collaboration meetings that the experiment holds each year. Honestly, I find these things overwhelming. It’s an opportunity to get a full view of everything that is going on within the collaboration. This spans detector operations, the trigger system, computing, plans for future detector upgrades, and all the data analysis that is taking place. Of course there is some talk about the challenges that we face — increasing luminosity, more complex event environments, the pressure to get results out promptly, the issues of keeping such a large collaboration organized and efficient. But we also get to see some of the best work that is being done by our collaborators. Some of the data analyses out there are really creative and clever, and you have to tip your hat to the people who are doing the work.

And I sit there thinking: Why am I not working on this myself? Actually, why didn’t I even know before that the work is going on? There are huge swaths of the experiment that I’m barely following, even though they are important. It’s somewhat demoralizing to have trouble keeping up with all the activity that is out there.

I console myself by saying that this is really an issue of scale. Consider the CLEO experiment at Cornell, where I did my PhD thesis about fifteen years ago. At the time it wasn’t the largest collaboration out there, perhaps half the size of one of the Tevatron collider experiments, but it was still substantial, with about 250 people on the author list. I could identify almost everyone in the collaboration on sight, I was reading pretty much every paper that went out, and I had a pretty good handle on what the hot topics were throughout the experiment.

So I need to keep some perspective and remember that these are different times and the LHC experiments are about a factor of ten larger than my thesis experiment. A single LHC experiment is now on the scale of 1500 PhD scientists, which surely puts it on the scale of a major research university. And who would expect to know everything that’s going on inside a research university?

Looking on the bright side, a group of scientists this large, all focused on the same goal, can really do amazing things. One of the amazing things is the ability to collaborate on these scales of both size and distance. But better still will be what we think and hope is coming — a revision of our understanding of how the universe works. It does take this many people to pull it off, and I shouldn’t be embarrassed by the fact that I don’t know what everyone is actually doing.


–by Nigel S. Lockyer, Director

Scientists from the China Institute of Atomic Energy (CIAE) and the National Science Foundation of China (NSFC) visited TRIUMF this past week (Tuesday, June 7) and gave me an unusual and exotic gift. I received a fossil of a fish—a herring-like fish!

This present seems well above average.  My first thought was about how they had carried the present thousands of miles, since they were coming from NSF in Washington, DC, and Brookhaven National Lab in the USA. The fossil was encased in a frame the size of a small book with a glass cover. The fossil was of Lycoptera, a fish that existed in China and that part of the world during the Jurassic period (200 million to 145 million years ago). This was the period of dinosaurs, reptiles, first birds, and, yes, fish. It was a time when atmospheric CO2 was 900 ppm, as opposed to present levels of about 390 ppm and the world was hot, on average three degrees Celsius above today’s temperatures…. a very different place from today (I hope).  Erudite papers suggest the Lycoptera is a member of the Leptolepidae family (“Delicate Scales”), an appealing name to me as a particle physicist (reminds me of the leptoquark…also a fossil, but from the beginnings of the Universe).

"Photocopy" of the Lycoptera fish fossil

The NSFC visitors indicated they expected Chinese science investments to grow by 20% per year.  One consequence of that is China now has plans for three rare-isotope beam facilities. Wow!  Finally, let me say we thanked our Chinese visitors by presenting them with six high quality ballpoint pens with TRIUMF, Vancouver BC, emblazoned on the side.


Bloggers, face to face

Monday, May 9th, 2011

While I certainly enjoy exchanging email with my LHC colleagues (in limited quantities, of course), I don’t get to see many people from the LHC community in person on a regular basis. We’re just a little group of particle physicists here in Lincoln, NE. To see more colleagues face to face, I typically have to take a trip to CERN (I go maybe two or three times a year) or to Fermilab, a big hub for US CMS activity (I go there more often than to CERN).

So, it was a great pleasure to get to see two of my fellow US LHC bloggers within one week, and I didn’t have to go to either Fermilab or CERN! First, I was able to convince my old friend Michael to come to UNL to give a colloquium about electroweak physics at the LHC. Michael is currently co-leader of CMS’s electroweak physics group, and has worked on that slice of particle physics for a long time. I enjoyed the talk (of course); it gave me some perspective on where we are in electroweak physics in general, and where it is at the LHC. The W and Z bosons, the key particles of the electroweak theory, were discovered in the 1980’s — a long time ago, already — and have been characterized in great detail. Just saying that we have observed them at the LHC isn’t really interesting in these times. What is interesting is how we are putting the W and Z to use as probes of other particles. Just as we have long used particles such as electrons and neutrinos to understand the structure of the proton (by scattering them off protons), we are now using the production properties of W’s and Z’s to understand the contents of the protons that were used to create them. Or, as one of my colleagues asked during question time at the end, “Why wasn’t the title of this talk ‘QCD at the LHC’?” I can always count on MIchael to teach me something new.

And then, just one week later, I was at the annual US CMS collaboration meeting, hosted by our colleagues at Notre Dame. I had never been to Notre Dame before, and was impressed by their facilities. I’d have to say that these meetings are a bit more about “business” than “physics”, in that we’re not talking about specific measurements as much as the broader picture of where we are and where we are going with the LHC, and how the US component of the CMS collaboration can best take advantage of our strengths for the benefit of the entire experiment. In the year since the last US CMS meeting, everything has changed — last May, we were just beginning to record collision data, and now we have something like a thousand times more data than we did then (with perhaps another factor of ten to come this year, if we’re lucky.) That gives us a lot to be happy about, but of course we can also see where the challenges are. As collision rates increase, it will be a struggle to keep our trigger rates down to something manageable. Processing all of the data we record will be a strain, in part because of the sheer volume of data, but also because of the increased complexity of individual events. Already we need to start thinking about how we will upgrade the detector to handle collision rates that are anticipated to be a factor of ten to a hundred higher within a few years.

This meeting is always a good chance to catch up with US friends whom I haven’t seen for a while. It’s been ages since I’ve seen fellow US LHC blogger Robin, for instance. Of course the meeting was so busy that I barely had a chance to say hello. But ha, I managed to blog about the meeting before her!

And if all of this wasn’t enough — in between these two events, we also had an event for the Nebraska HEP group. We made the US CMS meeting an excuse to bring just about every member of our group home to Lincoln for a visit. It is extremely rare for all of us to get together, but it is almost always a valuable experience. We spent two and a half days going through everything that’s happening in our group (it’s a lot!), trying to figure out how we can work together more creatively, and just hanging out a bit. I really enjoyed seeing everyone.

I’m looking forward to seeing all of these people again soon…but I’m probably going to have to travel further afield to do so.


Science is an Unusual Team Sport

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

–by Nigel S. Lockyer, Director

Scientists are curious. We all know that. But more importantly they are team players…that’s because they recognize we are all in the same “line of business”—because we are curious. The basic cheer of science is something like “We’re curious, rah rah, and we want to find out, rah rah! Join us, rah, and we’ll tell you what we’ve learned so far, rah, rah!”

One luxury that I particularly enjoy of working in a scientific environment is the multiple stimulating interactions with scientists from other labs, universities, and countries. For instance, this week at TRIUMF, I was able to find time (I suppose everyone thinks that lab directors can do what they want, when they want, but that is hardly true) to hear three lectures: one on our involvement in the medical-isotope crisis, one on the search for dark matter using a detector in orbit, and one on LHC searches for new physics. None of what we heard was conclusive. We are just learning to make useful targets for isotope production, dark matter was not found, nor new physics at the LHC.

But what was really enjoyable was the camaraderie between scientists, often between those that do not know one another: Did you try this? Did you look at that? Oh, that was really impressive! We know they are not going to give up the quest; we want them to win because we want to know the answer. A mutual win—no, not a tie, a really mutual win. This is not a concept that Sri Lanka would understand when India won the world cup in cricket. But in science, we are ALL cheering for a win.

Scientists know the challenges of advancing knowledge at the frontier. They have to stretch accelerator technology, detector abilities, push data transmission speed records (think the extreme LHC data rates), and invent clever data mining and analysis methods. We all try to do it, and so we sympathize with our colleagues as they struggle to make progress in their own areas. We are comrades in a quest for knowledge…a quest to unlock the closely guarded secrets of nature. We are team mates in the unusual, critically important sport of science.

Now pardon me, whilst I go get some practice in before next week’s game!


Go Team Canada

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

–by T. “Isaac” Meyer, Head of Strategic Planning & Communications

I spent most of Monday in Waterloo. No, not the Waterloo in Belgium or Waterloo Station in the U.K., but Waterloo, Ontario, the great central province of Canada that includes Paris, London, Windsor, and so on. (I’m not kidding!)

What’s special about Waterloo? Well, to the great followers of particle physics, the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics is based in Waterloo, Ontario. This amazing institute, which celebrated its tenth birthday just last year, was bankrolled with a cool $50 million from the owner of the Canadian company which invented the Blackberry. Now that’s pretty sweet.

I’m not a theoretical physicist and TRIUMF is primarily a laboratory dedicated to experimental physics—we have a theory group, but they are out numbered about 10:1 here—so what was going on?

Well, TRIUMF got together with the Perimeter Institute (known affectionately as PI) and SNOLAB (Canada’s deep underground science laboratory and successor to SNO where the solar neutrino problem was solved) to discuss Team Canada. No, not the hockey team that beat the pants off the USA in the Vancouver 2010 Olympics—barely, says my hurt American ego—but a Team Canada that joins our three labs together.

The topic of conversation for the visit was “What could Canada achieve if these three labs were to work together; a world-class accelerator laboratory, a world-class theory institute, and a world-class deep underground science lab?

The idea of Team Canada is a quiet revolution for Canada’s national identity. Traditionally, Canada has thought of itself as a peacemaker, an intermediary, and a good kid brother. For Canada to seek first place, to show up its bigger sibling to the South, to compete for dominance in an area…that’s new. That’s 21st century. The “Own the Podium” program that helped select and train the best winter athletes for the 2010 Olympics was not only amazing in its success for the Games but also in its audacity in challenging traditional Canadian views.

In science, the same thing is happening. Where can “Team Canada” play to its strengths and win big-time in science? The first step is finding the team and choosing the game. And that’s what we were doing in Waterloo.

The three laboratory directors (Nigel L, Nigel S, and Neal T) first talked about what “players” they had (i.e., areas of strength) and then started to brainstorm some of the burning questions in science that might yield to their combined efforts.

Although not feasible the short term, an example would be something like primordial neutrinos. These are the neutrinos that originated moments after the Big Bang and, like the cosmic microwave background radiation, would offer a detailed fingerprint of the early moments of creation. These neutrinos are so incredibly low in energy that there really is no current technology that can systematically detect them and develop a map of the sky like we do with survey telescopes.

But, let’s say TRIUMF did find a technical solution. PI would be able to generate the detailed theoretical predictions about what to look for and how to interpret the data. And SNOLAB would be the obvious and preferred location to place the detector because it is so deep underground that the noisy background of “other stuff” that rains down out of the atmosphere is heavily reduced. So, by combining forces, Canada would have a truly global advantage in addressing this science topic.

It was a fantastic discussion and clearly the first of many joint efforts. We look forward to a win with Team Canada!


Sorry, can you repeat that?

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

This post is meant to have a positive tone. Really.

The LHC experiments all rely heavily on some form of teleconferencing to get their work done. As experimental collaborators number in the thousands, we can’t get by without conversing with each other. And with collaborators all over the world, we can’t expect people to physically appear at every single meeting. This could work fifteen or twenty years ago, when people typically participated in experiments on the regional or national scale. I know a whole fleet of professors who used to drive a car or take a plane to Fermilab once every two weeks, or even every week, so that they could be in the room for some particular meeting. Now that we are spread over so many miles, it seems too much to ask. But teleconferencing has allowed us to move past that era. It is absolutely not as good as being there in person, but given the monetary costs of moving people around, and the amount of people’s time that can be wasted in transit, not to mention the wear and tear on all of us when we are away from home, it makes sense to take advantage of teleconferencing technology.

The good news in all this is that we have reached a point in teleconferencing technology where anyone who has a computer with a microphone, speaker and network connection can take part, from any office that they might be sitting in, making teleconferences much more convenient than ever before. The bad news, of course, is that we have reached a point in teleconferencing technology where anyone who has a computer with a microphone, speaker and network connection can take part, from any office that they might be sitting in. Not all microphones are of such high quality. Some microphones tend to be rather close to computer speakers. Some connections are unreliable and have limited bandwidth.

So today I found myself on yet another conference in which we had to remind people to mute because we were hearing other speakers echo through their sound pickup, and had to work our way through some parties becoming inaudible or distorted at times, and had to listen to the occasional background conversation, and had to ask people to repeat themselves, a little louder please. It is, honestly a bit of a drag. I’ll admit that I pine for the days when you really just could sit around the table with a couple of co-workers and point at the plots in your notebook and be done with it.

But this post has a positive tone, really. I just try to keep in mind that yes, we are able to work with people who are scattered all around the globe, and actually get things done, thanks to this technology, even though it gives me fits.


Almost There

Monday, July 19th, 2010

The official ATLAS conference note describing the analysis I worked on was approved on Saturday morning. My poster was finalized, approved, and printed — possibly not in that order — just in the past few hours. Now the only challenge left is to get myself and my poster through a French air traffic controllers’ strike and to the Palais de Congrès by Thursday morning.