Preparing for another CERN?
December 8, 2017 7:19 PM   Subscribe

My job is preparing for an international particle physics facility that will (most likely) be built near the city I work for, but the timescale is so long. What books should I read/what should I study to prepare?

I'm not naming the facility because I prefer it not be linked to my username, and because I'm not asking for opinions about the project. (Rest assured that if the rug gets pulled out under us and it doesn't happen, I have other things I want to do)

So, the timeline as I understand it is the national government says yes sure build it here, then we get 3 to 4 years of international negotiation and preparation, then construction starts and continues for about 10 years, and then the experiment starts.

I'm looking for in-depth resources that can help me understand details about what happens between a yes decision to build an international facility and the facility starting up and running over a decade or so later. I'm also looking for information about how international facilities have relationships with the surrounding communities: good relationships, not so good relationships. In what ways they can be beneficial/not so beneficial.

Things I have tried: googling a lot. This has given me one nice older symmetry magazine article about a community taskforce.

Looking through CERN's online database, didn't find much. A lot of stuff was way too macro, like "how an entire country behaved toward CERN."

History of CERN: I found part III online but it didn't really talk about locals. Part I and II cost a billion dollars each so I haven't had the chance to check them. Are they relevant to my interests?

I am considering the book on the Superconducting Super Collider but I don't know if it would provide a good enough reference to make up for ramping up my anxiety on whether this thing is going to happen.

I have tried asking people I know at different facilities for ideas and resources. Often the reply was "first come visit." (I can't right now unless it's out of pocket) I know I should probably do more cold emailing and push harder.

Other topics that might provide good references: DUNE, DESY, SLAC, TRIUMF etc etc etc, overseas military bases. The International Space Station,
the Antarctica research stations, though those don't have proper "neighbors" per se except like, aliens/penguins.

Bonus: what science fiction should I read?

Thank you.
posted by sacchan to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I hope there are better answers. Every year for ages at the "High Performance Experimental/Research Computing/Networking" sort of conferences.... CERN/LHC has been there talking about their use of every bit of data transfer ability possible. The have a bazillion computers on the detectors and a bazillion more filtering down the data and a bazillion more monitoring that and the "interesting dregs" are pushed out to researchers 24/7 at pretty much the full capacity of the latest and best networking technology.

The only city planning type thing that comes to mind is land access rights to upgrade things most likely involving digging. (a lot of US internet stuff is run along old railroad lines and by freeways and across bridges and such where you're not digging up some residents farm every year to lay/replace the cables). There will probably be the time of the next data transfer revolution where there will need to be some fussing about between the science site and the city or whatnot and you don't want to keep the scientists away from 10x more data export because you can't lay a new cable somewhere.
posted by zengargoyle at 8:50 PM on December 8, 2017

I'm looking for in-depth resources that can help me understand details about what happens between a yes decision to build an international facility and the facility starting up and running over a decade or so later.

This would be the most boring book ever. Honestly. Just a bunch of emails:

"we have the 35% design for phase II of Building A, please get comments to me by Dec 30th and let me know when you're available for the review meeting first two weeks of January"
" no one is available in January, how is Feb 3rd look?"
"Reminder! Comments are due on Friday"
"Reminder!! Comments are due by 5pm COB"
"We are rescheduling the review meeting to allow environmental to get us their comments. How is February 6th?
"Feb 8th?
"March 10th it is, ok everyone I have reserved a conference room with a projector but here is the call in number if you can't make it"
"Tomorrow's review meeting is on hold indefinitely as real estate has just sent their comments and we don't have right of way for the access road. Also Brad just told me that they took another look at the historical sites database and there is a possible burial site under the SW corner. And the ground contamination is actually above the clean up concentration in 7 places not one as previously reported. "
"Since the Phase II funding must be allocated by May 15th, we will be putting Building A on hold till 2024. Will be back in touch in 24 months."

Ad. Fucking Nauseum. It would be the worst episode of HGTV ever.
posted by fshgrl at 10:06 PM on December 8, 2017 [7 favorites]

I'm certainly no expert, but you might want to look into the story of the Texas Superconducting Super Collider, which was started in 1987, and then cancelled in 1993. There were a number of local, state, and federal forces in play around the project.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 10:10 PM on December 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't know too much about this, nor really where you can get info, except that I am a physicist (and thus have actually been to CERN before). There's a few concerns that I've heard about from the user side, but I'm not really quite the right kind (I haven't spent months there, just a week or two here and there). If you wanted to hear from some of the actually correct kind of physicist (those who have lived or worked at CERN, or those who are frequent visitors) memail me and I'll put you in touch; they'll likely want to know where your city is and what project you're talking about, though.

How big of a user base do you expect at any one time? If it's sizeable in comparison to the size of your city, then you might need to increase infrastructure (especially public transit and hotels/rental housing, the latter particularly if the site won't have much housing itself). Public transit will be needed from the site to the city center even if the site will have housing; people will need to get to and from and will want to go into the city (and if you make it easy to do, then visitors can support businesses there too).

How international do you expect the user base to be? (Science is international always, but how many visitors you will get from outside the country depends on where you are and what field you are in). If many visitors will not be fluent speakers of the local language, having some services available in the common languages would be very useful. Most scientists will know English at least passingly, because it is the language of science, but not everyone speaks it well enough to be comfortable renting an apartment, for example. Additionally they might have sort of weird vocabulary (I can read technical articles in French for example, but I wouldn't trust my ability to get around in it). Similarly having local banks be comfortable with providing services to foreigners would be useful, and again if it's a significant influx of international visitors then post offices, cell phone providers, etc will be getting hit too.
posted by nat at 1:37 AM on December 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm a theorist, so I don't have direct experience living at CERN for extended periods, but hopefully I can add a few potentially useful things to nat's comments, about the "social infrastructure" side of things once construction begins and the new lab ramps up to full operations [fingers crossed].

Housing: We have an ATLAS group in my department and they send their grad students, postdocs, and themselves to CERN for extended periods as well as short visits (like a week at a time for meetings, but sometimes multiple visits per year). Grad students will often get sent for 3 months at a time, postdocs potentially for 3 years at a time. CERN operates a hostel on site and contracts a second hostel in St. Genis (across the border in France, about a 30-minute walk to the main CERN site). But there are a large number of apartments/houses that are rented by university groups and then used by their students/postdocs when they are sent over. There are also a lot of hotels in St. Genis. So this is something to think about on the 10-15 year timescale from the perspective of whether new construction will be needed, whether your city wants to plan particular areas to focus this, etc. There's a handy grocery store a couple of blocks from the St. Genis hostel.

Transport: At CERN there's a bus that goes between CERN, St. Genis, and the Geneva airport, as well as a tram that runs between CERN and downtown Geneva. Something to think about is how international visitors will travel to and from the site. Does your city have an international airport? Would it make sense to start planning in that direction, or are there efficient transportation options from the major international hub(s)? If not, a direct domestic flight from the international hub(s) or fast train connection would be a good idea to plan for. CERN may be able to provide information on the travel volume that you might need to plan for -- I vaguely remember hearing that some surprising fraction of all airline passengers into and out of the Geneva airport were CERN-related, but now I can't remember the number.

People: You can basically expect all of the physicists from abroad to speak English at a functional level. A large number of those who are staying for months or longer will likely want to learn the local language, at least at a basic level. So some provision for language lessons would probably be a good idea. Another thing is that longer-term staff from other countries who have kids will need to put their kids in school -- I think Geneva has some "international schools" with instruction in other languages (probably mainly English) and some kind of standardized curriculum, probably set up for United Nations-related staff but I think also used by the kids of foreign CERN staff. Bored spouses who don't speak the local language (or don't speak it well) are also going to need community and stuff to do. It may also be useful to plan to ramp up the local government-office capacity for things like visas, residence permits, etc. Also the capacity to provide essential services like health care to people who do not speak the local language. (It'll be a safe bet that all the foreign physicists and engineers will at least speak English at a functional level.)

Civil construction: I suspect that this is not what you're mostly asking about, but if it is, then studying the construction of the LHC at CERN might be informative. The LHC was assembled in a pre-existing tunnel between (roughly) 2000 and 2010. The parts that I'm aware of were the delivery of lots of long magnets, excavation of larger caverns for the detectors, and CERN having to reserve giant cranes years in advance and thus being tied to a particular timeline for lowering stuff into the tunnel. This kind of thing will likely require traffic logistics planning during the construction period.

I hope all this is somewhat helpful. If the project is approved, I'm sure I'll wind up there for conferences at some point -- we could hold a mefi meetup! :)
posted by heatherlogan at 9:30 AM on December 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

Just wanted to add: once the experiment starts, there's easily a 30-year run/upgrade cycle assuming continued funding. So any related civic infrastructure could be expected to be used for a long time.
posted by heatherlogan at 1:50 PM on December 9, 2017

Hi everybody, thank you for taking the time to answer!

I don’t know if I’m describing this correctly but this facility will be an international entity formed from agreements between governments, like CERN? So some laws and taxes won’t necessarily apply to it and its employees? Their pension might be from their home country depending on how things get set up, and come to think of it, I don’t even know what health insurance they’ll be under. Maybe that gets decided later.

We’re probably looking at about 3,000 researchers & their families from overseas, and maybe like 7,000 - 10,000 people total at peak time? This will start as a couple hundred people per year at construction year 1, after the 3-4 years prep. But this depends on what report you read and who you ask, and I am suspicious of the “probably half of the researchers will be from overseas” figure because I don’t know what they based that on. It’s a lot more international residents than we have now but not a lot in terms of total population.

I can make a good guess on what nationalities are coming and that English will probably be the main language we provide services in, though I really want to keep gathering as much info as I can on that and be flexible.

A healthy chunk of researchers have responded to a recent survey they anticipate they will come *during the construction phase* and that’s really confused me. Wouldn’t they come later, when the thing is up and running and spitting out data?

I neglected to mention this anywhere, but I have a relatively better handle on issues like health care, emergency services, education, transportation, long and short term housing, visas, jobs/activities for spouses. Still really happy to get input on that, especially with a timeframe. Like, for emergency services my philosophy is “now now now now now,” (and it's going pretty well thank god) but other stuff, I’m not sure.

Interesting to hear about data transfer. I vaguely know there will be water pipes for cooling, and electricity lines, and roads, and a lot of tunnel digging, and places to put the dug up stuff, and transporting parts from overseas, and checking & setting up parts, and putting stuff in the ground. I will add data infrastructure to my vague understanding.

I want to watch the “worst episode of HGTV ever” as described by fshgirl. I would gladly read all those emails, or letters, especially if they had hints about how the facility was interacting with the local community and government.

Do you guys think the books History of CERN I or II or Tunnel Visions (the book on the Superconducting Super Collider) would be useful?
posted by sacchan at 1:15 AM on December 10, 2017

Generally the nitty-gritty design of an accelerator facility starts happening several years before ground is broken and ramps up from there. There will be experts on both the accelerator and detector sides, as well as generally a theory group. They have plenty of work to do before the actual 'physics run' stuff starts.

I have only been low on the totem pole on the experimental side, but I imagine there may be DOE progress reports available publicly, or the CERN equivalent, that contain the sorts of details you may be interested in. Facilities these days tend to be built near or on existing infrastructure, though.

I have not read Tunnel Visions (it's on my reading list), but it does sound like it could contain useful knowledge. In terms of fiction, I have a copy of Einstein's Bridge, which I find myself unable to finish due to the turgidity of the prose.
posted by Standard Orange at 2:59 PM on December 10, 2017

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