International collaborations in large-scale scientific projects

Christine Darve and Colin Carlile

What will the world of tomorrow be like with respect to science? As we face growing challenges in our society, science is evolving. A century ago science was pursued in small university laboratories and was seen as an esoteric pursuit with limited relevance to real life. Today it has become a global endeavour and governments are acknowledging that it is a potent economic driver. Science has redefined our place in the universe, moving from the earth as the center of the universe to the knowledge today concerning the Big Bang and the expanding universe and, with that, the realization that we live on a rather ordinary planet around an ordinary star in an ordinary galaxy. And yet we are special. The large international scientific facilities of today have become global and provide the foundations for the solution to some of the pressing problems facing humanity and our planet. They are fertile sources of innovation.

Collaborative projects and international cooperation are the keys to successful large-scale scientific facilities. Many examples of such “Big Science” projects can be detailed: LHC, ITER, XFEL, ESA, IFMIF, ESO, FAIR, ILC. These international ambassadors of science support knowledge transfer and transmit our human heritage to the younger generations empowered to lead in the coming decades.

Applying science to society leads to new products relevant to society’s needs, and leads to new business, new organizations and new jobs. Our everyday lives depend heavily upon the fruits of scientific discovery. Let us take the smart phone that has truly transformed our lives in less than one decade. Without satellite technology, without development of new materials – nano-material lithium ion batteries for example – without perfect silicon crystals, such a device would not be possible. Do we as a society recognise the debt that we owe to scientific research and the engineering and manufacturing capabilities that follow for this life-changing piece of technology? We suspect not.

Hence, a forum of international physics such as our APS FIP can promote active dialogue and exchange of ideas and opinions aimed at addressing and responding to key challenges. In this article we give examples of large-scale international projects that promote societal improvement.

Nowadays, large-scale scientific projects can generally be successful by organizing and distributing the creation and operation of the large and unique enterprise among partners, utilizing their individual capacities. Such synergies foster not only the common project but also advance local development of the partner institutions. Cutting edge facilities have grown beyond what it possible for one country to build, for more that one continent to build in some case, if we take ITER and the International Space Station as examples.

Major events of history have paved the way to new scientific discoveries and have led to the innovative technologies referred to above. There are many examples that illustrate how this happened following the Second World War (SWW).

First, the shining example of international collaboration is embodied by the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), as one of Europe’s first joint ventures. CERN was created in 1956 following the need to unify countries and coordinate scientific breakthroughs after the Second World War. It emerged from the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy initiative.

CERN represents a collective effort of European countries to build the world’s leading particle physics research center to address fundamental scientific questions. Following the SWW, ideas for international laboratories were put forward as early as 1946 within the United Nations Organisation. Officially, the Convention establishing CERN was approved by 12 Member States on July 1st, 1953. Today, CERN has 20 Member States and countries with observer status are India, Israel, Japan, the Russian Federation, Turkey, the United States, the European Community (EC) and UNESCO.  Some 8,000 scientists, over half the world’s active particle physicists, use CERN facilities. They represent 580 universities and over 85 nationalities. The construction and operation budget contributions are proportional to the GDP of each of the member states.

The second example is the Institute Laue-Langevin (ILL) and the use of neutrons for science. “We are celebrating this year the 50th anniversary of the Franco-German alliance, for which the first milestone has been the creation of the ILL, in 1967”, says Andrew Harrison, ILL’s Director General.

The use of neutrons mirrors history. The understanding of matter reflects the quest of humanity, allowing us to better understand nature and to improve the world in which we live. Modern societies are technology driven. Progress in many scientific areas depends on understanding materials at their atomic and molecular level, whether we are interested in components of an electronic circuit, the membranes and contacts of a fuel cell or battery, or proteins in a biological cell.  Neutrons were discovered in 1932 by Chadwick, and harnessed during the SWW to create the first nuclear reactors and separate the fissile material used to devastating effect at the end of the war. Neutron sources today have a unique potential for the most advanced sciences. From nanotechnology to biological discoveries, neutrons provide answers to many important questions related to the fundamental laws governing our universe. Neutrons often provide decisive information for developing applications. Neutrons are also themselves objects of great scientific interest since their properties have consequences for the understanding of the origin and evolution of our universe. Europe today has more than 5,000 researchers using neutrons.

The ILL is a successful example that embodies the success of scientific cooperation to build large-scale tools thanks to the vision of successive directors and the excellence of the international staff that were attracted to work on the facility. Sciences in the hand of proactive leaders, skilled and committed scientists and engineers, and policy makers result in building the most accomplished and balanced society. As the world’s flagship center for neutron science, the ILL provides scientists from the member states and beyond with a very high flux of neutrons feeding some 40 state-of-the-art instruments. Research focuses primarily on fundamental materials science in a variety of fields: condensed matter physics, chemistry, biology, nuclear physics and materials science, etc.

The ILL was founded on January 19th 1967 with the signing of an agreement between the French government and the Federal Republic of Germany. The collaboration and influence of Louis Néel and Heinz Maier-Leibnitz within their own countries brought this project to fruition in Grenoble. In 1974 the United Kingdom became the institute’s third Associate member country, accounting now for 12 additional country partnerships (11 European and India.). The construction and operating budget are based on cash contributions from the member states according to usage. Additional in-kind contributions are supporting the budget. Every year, some 1500 researchers from over 40 countries visit the ILL. More than 800 experiments selected by a scientific review committee are performed annually.

Finally, a more recent example of international collaboration in the building of large-scale physics facilities, staying with neutron sources, is the European Spallation Source (ESS) in Lund, Sweden.  The limitations of reactor technology have long been known, as a consensus among neutron scientists that increased spallation capacity is a necessary step forward. With an improved source there is also the need for ESS to develop increasingly sophisticated detector instruments. A 5 MW long pulse proton accelerator, composed mainly of superconducting Radio-Frequency components, is used to achieve these goals.  The ESS will be up to 30 times brighter than today's leading facilities and neutron sources. Like the ILL and CERN, the ESS will be a multi-disciplinary research center and user institute, which makes its facilities and expertise freely available to visiting scientists from member states. The ESS will enable new opportunities for researchers in the fields of life sciences, energy, environmental technology, cultural heritage and fundamental physics.

This new facility is funded by a collaboration of 17 European countries and Scandinavia is providing 50 percent of the construction cost whilst the other member states are providing financial support mainly via in-kind contribution from institutes, laboratories or industries of the given countries. Scientists and engineers from 32 different countries are members of the workforce in Lund who participate in its design and construction.

The figure below illustrates the connections between science, technology, and the economy discussed in our article.

Dr. Christine Darve chart

Accomplishments in fundamental and applied physics are driven by synergy between discoveries and societal values. There are no geographical borders to establish such large-scale projects, as CERN, ILL or ESS. Science is a tool for understanding in the world, bringing people from many diverse cultures together and thereby helping to create a harmonious modern society.

Christine Darve, a member of the FIP Executive Committee, is an Engineering Scientist, Lead Engineer for the Superconducting Linear Accelerator (704 MHz) of the European Spallation Source (ESS AB P.O. Box 176, SE-221 00 Lund, Sweden). Dr Darve is the main organizer of the biennial African School of Fundamental Physics and its Applications.

Colin Carlile, has been lately the Director General of the European Spallation Source in Sweden and before that of the Institute Laue-Langevin. He is Guest Professor of Physics, Lund University and Honorary Professor of Physics, University of Birmingham. Professor Carlile has been awarded the Order of the Polar Star in June 2013 (Swedish royal order).

Disclaimer - The articles and opinion pieces found in this issue of the APS Forum on International Physics Newsletter are not peer refereed and represent solely the views of the authors and not necessarily the views of the APS.