PH Department: at the heart of CERN

The Physics Department is where the Laboratory’s scientific activity takes place. Some 1000 members of the personnel and 11,000 users work together on CERN’s highly diversified experimental programme. The challenges for the coming years are twofold: maintain the level of excellence that led the Laboratory to the discovery of the Higgs boson, and preserve the diversity of the scientific programme. The new Department Head discusses his vision with us.


Livio Mapelli.

“On paper, our plan for the next two years shows no surprises,” says Livio Mapelli, former Deputy Department Head and now, since January, Head of the Physics Department (PH). “We have to finish the completion, consolidation and initial upgrades of the experiments planned for LS1. In 2015, our core activity will be supporting the experiments during the restart of the accelerator complex. However, as physicists, the best reward for us would be to obtain new breakthroughs and important discoveries beyond the Standard Model of Particle Physics that may lie within the reach of CERN’s machines and experiments.”

Although the core activity of the PH Department is the LHC and its experiments, the approved experiments that use the beam lines provided by other accelerators are also a priority. “The number of new proposals that we are receiving and the number of approved experiments underline the vitality of the Laboratory,” says Mapelli. “We have resources invested in a variety of fields, including antimatter research, nuclear physics, precision studies at the SPS and feasibility studies for future projects. Moreover, the TH Unit is a centre of excellence for theoretical physics research in all its vital areas, providing stimulus and support to the experiments and a facility for the international high-energy physics community. The challenging task is to support all the experimental and theoretical activities while also making resources available in preparation for the new projects.”

The members of the PH Department are distributed over 12 units. While some of them are dedicated to specific experiments, four groups provide support to them all. “Their missions match the needs of the experiments,” explains Mapelli. “They deal respectively with detector technologies, electronics, scientific computing and general administrative infrastructure.”

In addition to its daily activities related to current projects, the PH Department is also on the frontline when the Laboratory launches ambitious new research programmes. “This week we have been discussing the future circular collider (FCC),” says Mapelli. “It’s like projecting ourselves over the next 30 years, but it’s not too early! We have already allocated resources to this project, whose feasibility needs to be carefully evaluated. A number of PH members are already working on both the hadronic and leptonic FCC options. There is also ongoing activity to study the linear alternative for a future lepton collider, CLIC.”

In this tightly scheduled and often changing situation, careful planning of the manpower and budget is vital to the Department. “The two pillars of the Department – experiments and theory – are represented by my two deputies,” Mapelli explains. “In addition, I have put in place a new structure where two people share all the planning activity: the Departmental Planning Officer is in charge of the budget and materials planning, while the Human Resources Officer is in charge of the personnel planning.”

He concludes: “Human resources are not just numbers on an Excel table. They are individuals, and the success of the Department is in their hands. They feel the pride of being part of this big enterprise and so do I. I will consider my objective as PH Department Head achieved if their motivation and satisfaction in their work lives remain high.  The success of PH will follow naturally.”

by Antonella Del Rosso