Science driving facilities for particle physics

This week, CERN played host to the 10th ICFA (International Committee for Future Accelerators) seminar, which brought together some 200 scientists, government agency representatives and lab directors from around the world to take the pulse of our field. ICFA seminars take place every three years, and this time the emphasis was on science as the driving force for facilities.


The theme of this year’s seminar could not have been more timely. With austerity the global norm, it is more important than ever for science to point the way to the facilities we need, and for the global community to ensure that those facilities are planned at the global level.

The LHC is already a machine for the world, and although CERN’s Member States have carried the bulk of the cost, it would not have been possible without contributions from around the globe. In the US, Fermilab’s focus has moved away from the high-energy frontier to the intensity frontier, which is every bit as important for all of us. While in Japan, the major labs, including KEK, are still recovering from the earthquake, but it’s safe to assume that they will soon resume their leading position in their traditional areas of strength.

I have singled out these three labs for a mention simply because one of them hosted the seminar, while the Directors of the other two are incoming and outgoing ICFA Chairs, but the whole point of the ICFA seminar is to show the continuity and diversity of our field. Around the world, interest in and engagement with particle physics are growing, and that’s why each participant at the ICFA seminar received a new ICFA publication, Beacons of Discovery, making the case for particle physics as a global endeavour.

The ICFA seminar has a very special place in the particle physics conference circuit. Coming around only once every three years and bringing together leaders representing every facet of the field, the seminar provides a unique opportunity to gauge the state of particle physics globally, and to get a feeling for regional trends. This time, the trend was clear: always collaborative, the time has come for particle physics to coordinate globally.

Whether it be for developing new science-led machines for the frontiers of our field, ensuring that the technical knowledge generated in pursuit of our science finds its way to people who can make it work in other areas, or for enthusing the upcoming generation, we’re better off together. This was the clear message from this week’s ICFA seminar.

Rolf Heuer