Collaboration and competition

Tim Meyer

I went to CERN and back in the past week. Not only did I learn that a hulking Swiss-made machine can brew better-tasting coffee faster than me, but I discovered that famed winter-ski maker Rossignol also manufactures stainless-steel bathroom trash cans.

More importantly, I learned that the U.S. particle physics community is succeeding in pressing forward with the seeming conundrum of collaboration and competition that is part and parcel of physics research. With our quest to do for neutrinos what CERN did for the Higgs, Fermilab and the U.S. community are smack-dab in the middle of international relations, with CERN as a clearinghouse for input from the European community.

I was in Geneva to support Nigel Lockyer’s status report to CERN Council about the progress in establishing the United States as a host to the world’s flagship initiative in neutrino physics. We met with CERN leadership and discussed opportunities and mechanisms to enhance our cooperation via contributions of components and capabilities for the Large Hadron Collider and LBNF. We also mingled with friends and colleagues from the United States, Canada, Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Japan, China and many other countries.

But at the same time as Nigel and I were welcomed to sit in CERN Council chambers as a valuable partner to the future of the LHC, I was asked to review and approve new DOE counterintelligence training that explains the resources DOE makes available to Fermilab staff and the agency’s expectations for us to observe and report on suspicious activities.

How do I navigate these seemingly contradictory waters? How do we as a lab reconcile our international commitments with concerns about peace and prosperity?

In straightforward fashion. Our concerns about safety and security do not spring from fears of nationality or culture; they are simply the heightened awareness that is appropriate in areas where crimes might occur. For instance, I lock my car doors and windows when parking my car in Chicago, whereas at Fermilab I often leave my keys in the car with the engine running –– anyone who steals it probably needs the ride more than I do. (Just kidding!)

To be serious, though, as participants in a DOE-sponsored research program, we must simultaneously trust our neighbors and count on their support while we stay vigilant for activities and intentions that would undermine this spirit of cooperation. And we are not alone in adopting this attitude; my European and Asian colleagues told me last week that they, too, are enhancing their precautions.

I returned to Batavia empowered and more convinced than ever that Europe, through the emblem of CERN, is interested in advancing the global pursuit of the science behind neutrinos. I am also bolstered by the knowledge that we are not hiding from our partners in the name of security, but we are all joining forces to ferret out those who don’t support our common objectives of peace and prosperity. And I am filled with pride for the actions of my wife and daughter, who traveled to Vancouver while I was at CERN to affirm their commitment to dual citizenship and a multicultural upbringing.