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Peer-reviewed physics at the speed of light

In the April issue of symmetry, Daisy Yuhas writes about the long path from the first hint of a discovery at the Large Hadron Collider to the published paper that makes the claim official.  Yet in the four weeks since the LHC's first collision, four papers have already been published and 15 more are in the pipeline.  In this interview with Sergio Bertolucci, the head of research and computing at CERN, Dan Drollette of iSGTW, International Science Grid This Week, sorts things out.  This article is reprinted from their April 28 issue.

Sergio Bertolucci. Photo: CERN

Director for Research and Scientific Computing at CERN, Sergio Bertolucci. Photo: CERN

iSGTW: We have heard that a lot of papers have already been published in the time since the start-up of the LHC. Is that right?

Bertolucci: Four papers on high-energy physics have already published, and 15 are in preparation as of today, April 14, all based on the collisions that just happened. One week after the first collisions, the first papers were published electronically. And these were all peer-reviewed. 

iSGTW: That’s very fast, compared to the sometimes years-long process of traditional print journals. How was the peer-review done?

Bertolucci: Each experiment is not a monolith, but consists of 3,000 people working in teams on separate projects within it. When a paper is about to be produced, it passes through different teams for internal review, then is reviewed by teams on other experiments, then reviewed by CERN. So, there have been five layers of review before it even goes to the external publication, which has its own, independent review system. The whole system sounds complex, but nonetheless is fast, as seen by one week between observation and publication.

iSGTW: Where have these papers appeared?

Bertolucci: Open-access journals, such as the Journal of High Energy Physics. Our paradigm has always been open access, and this is a good place to practice it.

iSGTW: What was the content of what was published?

Bertolucci: For one thing, the number of charged particles per unit angle at different energies in the LHC was much higher than predicted. It did not conform to the model.

iSGTW: Why is this important?

Bertolucci: This is new knowledge, which may be leading to new physics. And on a more immediate, pragmatic level, the material in these papers is important for tuning and for simulation.

iSGTW: Why publish so fast?

Bertolucci: The watchwords of science are collaboration and competition. Everyone wants to work together, but there’s also a sense  of healthy competition — everyone wants to be first.  Everyone wants to be the first to say “I found it.” And that’s good — it keeps people on their toes.  At the same time, there is collaboration, which benefits from publishing quickly. We can compare and contrast what is happening between experiments, for example. So, ATLAS and CMS can exchange information, look at each other and confirm that they are each on the right track. So far, the results nicely fit, and publishing quickly really helps make that happen. And the technology is pushing for fast publication as well. We have the capability to do it, so why not take advantage of it.?

iSGTW: Obviously, it’s still early, but would you care to make any speculations about what the LHC will find, and what kinds of papers we will see?

Bertolucci: It depends on how kind nature  is to us. But at the level at which we’re operating — 7 TeV — if supersymmetry is there, we’ll find it. The Standard Model predicts that at 800 GeV, evidence of it should start to show up. And at this 7 TeV energy level, we should pick up any hints for B-Mesons as well. What’s more, all this is just the known unknowns — that’s not counting the ‘unknown unknowns.’

iSGTW: Any last comments you would like to make?

Bertolucci: This is a very long-term project. The LHC will be around for a while, and there will be a lot of papers coming out of it. I was there when the Tevatron in Illinois first started up in 1985 — and that machine is still going strong today. So, the LHC ought to be around for several decades as well.

This is a very good time to be in the high-energy physics community. This kind of global collaboration means we can do things which would otherwise be impossible; each individual project would otherwise not have the resources, the staff or the funding to undertake these endeavors.

The kind of global collaboration that we are doing here in this community could hopefully someday become a model for others to follow. Where else do you find people from Palestine and Israel, Pakistan and India, or America and Iran working side-by-side ?

by Dan Drollette, iSGTW