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Posts Tagged ‘global partnership’

This article originally appeared in symmetry on March 31, 2014.

Three decades ago in March, scientists from Latin America came to do research at Fermilab, forming the ties of a lasting collaboration.

Three decades ago in March, scientists from Latin America came to do research at Fermilab, forming the ties of a lasting collaboration.

In 1983, Fermilab Director Leon Lederman put his money on the table at the second Pan American Symposium on Elementary Particles and Technology in Rio de Janeiro. His daring proposition: If the Brazilian Research Council would not at the time fund that nation’s physicists to do research at Fermilab, he would pay the salaries himself.

His parlay worked. A year later, 30 years ago this month, four physicists from Brazil took paid leave to work on the E691 fixed-target experiment at Fermilab. They were Fermilab’s first Latin American scientists and the beginning of its relationship with the region.

“Lederman made the bold offer in that meeting,” says Carlos Escobar, one of the four trailblazing Brazilians who crossed over the Equator to Fermilab. “That was the deciding factor.”

Mexico soon followed, spearheaded by then Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México professor Clicerio Avilez. The university sent two scientists and a graduate student, the first Latin American student to get his PhD for work done at Fermilab.

Since then, the collaboration between Fermilab and Latin American institutions has grown to also include Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Twenty-one Latin American institutions participate in the collaboration, which consists of theorists and members of eight experiments: CMS, DAMIC, DZero, LBNE, MINERvA and MINOS, as well as on the Dark Energy Survey and the Pierre Auger Observatory—both of which reside in South America. That’s in addition to the nine fixed-target experiments that completed their runs in the 1990s.

Lederman began planting the seeds of collaboration in 1979, noting that Latin American nations boasted strong scientific groups and an impressive history of innovation.

“Latin America represented a huge potential treasure of human resources which would, I was sure, eventually be devoted to scientific research to the benefit of the nations of South and Central America and, indeed, the world,” he wrote in a 2006 paper.

Since those days, the collaboration with Fermilab, as well as steadily gaining economic strength and higher publicity for science, have placed particle physics research south of the Rio Grande on firmer ground. Fermilab not only provided scientists with particle physics experiments to work on, it also hosted workshops that were attended by Latin American engineers, physicists, technicians and students.

“When I first started, there were only two groups in Mexico cultivating theoretical high-energy physics, and none tilling the field of experimental high-energy physics,” says Julian Felix Valdez, a University of Guanajuato professor whose connection with Fermilab began in 1990, when he was a graduate student. Then, he says, things changed as Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and Instituto Politécnico Nacional began sending students to Fermilab.

“Thirty years later, there are groups in experimental high-energy physics at eight Mexican universities, as well as other groups emerging at other Mexican universities,” Felix Valdez says. He estimates about 100 Mexican scientists work on particle physics at home and an additional 30 abroad.

The flow of students hasn’t abated, and most now come to Fermilab to work on neutrino research. For future generations, it could mean working on Fermilab’s Long-Baseline Neutrino Experiment.

“There’s a good stream of people. Once the connection’s established, it doesn’t sever. It keeps flowing,” says Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú master’s student Maria Jose Bustamante, who is on the MINERvA neutrino experiment. “Of course you need an institution to do that.”

Enlisting more institutions to invigorate the flow is perhaps still the biggest challenge facing the collaboration today. To that end, Fermilab’s fifth director, Pier Oddone, and his deputy, Young-Kee Kim, picked up where Lederman left off, says MINERvA scientist Jorge Morfin, one of the founding members of the Latin American collaboration. Oddone and Kim helped formalize the Latin American Initiative in 2010, suggesting more written agreements between Fermilab and Latin American institutions and funding agencies.

“No one on MINERvA would doubt that the contribution of these Latin American students has been significant. This has been a real working benefit for the experiment here at Fermilab,” Morfin says. The number of students that work or have worked on MINERvA totals 24 master’s students, nine doctoral students and two postdocs. “Now they can work on experiments throughout the world. It’s been a nice return, a give and take,” he says.

Collaboration also provides opportunities for visiting scientists to bring technologies from their home countries to Fermilab. Escobar notes that Brazilian companies provided several pieces of instrumentation for Fermilab experiments, including drift chambers and detectors for DZero. It goes the other way, too: Scientists take new technologies developed at Fermilab back to industries at home.

“People see the local industries benefit from this kind of collaboration with a place that does fundamental research,” Morfin says. “It translates into actual progress for local industries and local technology.”

To see another 30 years of flourishing high-energy physics in the western hemisphere requires an investment in physics from both sides of the Equator, Felix Valdez says.

“Physics—especially high-energy physics—is an international task,” he says.

Leah Hesla


–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!