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Physicists hold first international particle accelerator conference


For decades, scientists from laboratories and universities around the world have worked together to build and operate particle detectors.

Until recently, accelerator physicists have done just the opposite, working predominantly with fellow scientists at the same institution to build their machines.

This week hundreds of accelerator physicists have gathered in Kyoto, Japan, to take part in the first International Particle Accelerator Conference, taking a step toward the practices of their detector-building colleagues. “Any new accelerator will surely need to be built in an international collaboration,” said Katsunobu Oide, chair of the IPAC 2010 organizing committee, in his introductory remarks.

Detector builders expect to work with collaborators from outside their institutions. If a particle physicist wants to take part in an experiment, he or she must take some responsibility for the detector by helping with construction or taking shifts running it.

There is no similar expectation that the scientist help build or run the accelerator that delivers particles to the detector. The physicists, engineers, and technicians that do this historically have had little assistance from outside the host institution.

One reason for this is that operating an accelerator is more complicated than operating a detector, Oide said.

“A detector is more of a passive device,” he said. “Once you build it, you use it.” The major work takes place during construction.

But an accelerator requires constant, specialized attention. “It cannot be automatic if you want cutting-edge performance,” he said.

Those who run particle accelerators need to work in close proximity to the accelerator so that they can investigate if something goes wrong. The philosophy has been that if locals are going to operate the accelerator, they might as well build it, too.

But particle accelerators have grown larger and more complex over time. It is no longer feasible for a single institution to provide the manpower and funding necessary to complete construction.

The Hadron Electron Ring Accelerator, or HERA, completed in 1992 at DESY in Hamburg, Germany, was the first accelerator to receive a significant in-kind contribution from a collaborating institution. Italian scientists built half of its 416 superconducting dipole magnets.

Since then, multiple institutions have worked together on accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider and Europe's XFEL. Proposed future accelerators such as the International Linear Collider, the Compact Linear Collider, and the muon factory are set to follow this trend.

This week, accelerator scientists at IPAC 2010 hope to find new ways to capitalize on the advantages and manage the disadvantages that the new experience of working as a team can bring.