Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 25  |  Friday, May 24, 2002  |  Number 9
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Interactions - Communicating particle physics in the 21st century

Time for communicators to catch up - If large collaborations can achieve one goal, why can't labs speak in harmony?

by Neil Calder
Director of Communications
Stanford Linear Accelerator Center

Neil Calder

MENLO PARK, Calif.—In high-energy physics, we are accustomed to dealing with paradoxes. We build huge detectors for tiny particles. Studying the infinitesimally small contributes to our understanding of the farthest reaches of the universe.

But we have created for ourselves a paradox that produces internal friction and heat, yet precious little light. Although we are outstanding collaborators, we don’t communicate with a unified voice.

Competition between labs is a healthy thing that drives the standard of machine performance and detector efficiency ever higher, and has never precluded excellent collaboration between competing labs. However, a good story can only be made better for the media by a dose of rivalry. They will always seek it out.

From the UA1 and 2 at CERN in the 1980s; ZEUS and H1 at DESY; DZero and CDF at Fermilab; CERN’s LEP experiments; BaBar at SLAC; Belle at KEK, and the massive LHC experiments, HEP has set new standards in international collaboration. All these detectors are monuments to our ability to work constructively together. Physicists take to collaboration like ducks to water; they are more at home in it than out of it. The Web germinated in a hothouse of collaboration, and now computational grid technologies are riding on the data infrastructure established among HEP institutes.

CDF Collaboration If our enviable skill lies in mixing powerful collaboration cocktails, why has this skill been largely ignored by the media, while our rivalries have been highlighted? Collaboration requires communication, and the physics community has shown the way. Unfortunately—and herein lies the paradox— in this respect the communications functions of the major centers have been slow to catch up. As the field became increasingly international, and collaboration was woven into its fabric, the labs’ communication offices generally missed the trend and continued to trumpet the success of individual labs. That was, and is, a mistake.

All our experiments are international, and experimental results are frequently confirmed by other groups. Clumsy communication, spotlighting the work of an individual laboratory rather than the wider community, is definitely unwise. Particle physics is defined by extensive and successful collaboration. Particle physics communication must meet the same high standards.

BABAR Collaboration The first steps have already been taken.

Fermilab’s Judy Jackson was the catalyst for regular meetings of the heads of communications from the world’s leading particle physics labs. Berkeley, Brookhaven, CERN, DESY, Fermilab, Gran Sasso, Jefferson Lab, KEK and SLAC are all represented in this group, currently named the International Committee for Science Communication (ICSC).

Almost all our labs are involved in the LHC, and clear communication among all partners is vital. The future Linear Collider will be an international initiative from the start, and an International Linear Collider Steering Group is already being set up. A unified communication strategy among participants is absolutely essential. The next meeting of ICSC will be held during the July ICHEP conference in Amsterdam. Already on the agenda are proposals for pooling resources and aligning our communications activities. It’s about time!

Thus, things are moving internationally. What about within the U.S.? In January 2002, the HEPAP longrange planning group published its plan for the next 20 years of particle physics. This plan outlines an exciting program with elements (a Linear Collider springs to mind) that will demand tight teamwork inside the American HEP community. The communications offices in our laboratories must step up common projects to create a unified voice of particle physics. DOE PULSE (www.ornl.gov/news/pulse) has set a good example to speak with one voice for all the DOE labs.

Meanwhile, Fermilab and SLAC communications offices are already moving as a team. An HEP news web space, “Interactions.org,” will launch in June and be followed by further joint activities. Perhaps the time is ripe for a collaborative print publication for HEP in the U.S.? The future in communications is not lab-based, but crossnational and international.

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last modified 5/24/2002   email Fermilab