How the Ukrainian war destroyed physics

In normal times, four major physics experiments using proton collisions at Cern’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland publish a large number of scientific papers per year. But in March 2022, the number of new research papers on LHC experiments dropped to zero. Reason: lack of agreement on how to list Russian and Belarusian scientists and institutes. The provisional compromise in effect so far is not to publish.

Publications are the solid currency of research used for exchanging information and proving the contributions of individuals and funders. The four largest LHC experiments are the collaboration of thousands of scientists and engineers, and the articles are often attributed to all members of the project.

According to sources at CERN, after the occupation of Ukraine, some members objected to co-authoring with Russian institutes and even people working for them (about 7% of collaborators). Fedor Ratnikov, a Russian physicist, explains that no editorial policy satisfies the required two-thirds majority of the participating institutes in each collaboration. “We have Ukrainian collaborators for whom this problem is naturally extremely painful. [But] Most of my Ukrainian colleagues do not blame the occupation on their colleagues in the Russian institutes. I would say some of my EU colleagues are much more radical.”

The four major experiments at the Large Hadron Collider are devoted to the study of the Standard Model, the theory that currently describes the world’s smallest building blocks, and most importantly, the deviations that may arise from it.

Properties of the Higgs boson
For Atlas and CMS, the two “general purpose” workforces, the properties of the Higgs boson, are new unknowns. After determining its existence a decade ago, scientists are still investigating how it interacts with other particles. Anything that differs from the Standard Model’s predictions would be welcome, especially after years of lack of evidence for other proposed theories that complement the SM, such as supersymmetry.

Matter-antimatter symmetry
The LHCb experiment was built to take a deeper look at the tiny differences between matter and antimatter involving the beauty quark, one of the biggest conundrums in the current model. Since last summer, the LHC has been colliding with more protons at a higher energy, and the researchers plan to see if the inconsistencies can solidify and reveal clues about them.

The moment after the big bang
The LHC not only collides the protons but also the nuclei of lead atoms, creating a situation similar to the situation after the Big Bang. In previous years, ALICE (A Larger Ion Collider Experiment) had worked on this “quark-gluon plasma”; now sets out to analyze the data. Eleni Petrakou

Andreas Höecker, spokesman for the Atlas experiment, said that, given the statements of high-level representatives of Russian academic institutions, the question is only about the form of institutional acceptance, and that top funding institutions are “Russian state”.

Since March, the four LHC experiments have continued to produce new papers, submit them to journals for peer review, and freeze their publications. The unreleased pipeline now includes over 70 tracks.

Public versions are uploaded to the arXiv preprint server, but both these and submissions to journals do not have a list of authors and funding organizations. While in the past this list took several pages, now there is a general reference, for example “Atlas collaboration”.

Scholars from European countries and the US say that so far there has been little impact on funding or awarding doctorates. However, a senior scientist from outside Europe at the LHC says: “Keep this political approach for a while longer; it could cause problems for students, postdoctoral students and ourselves.” Brajesh Choudhary, professor at the University of Delhi and a member of Cern’s CMS detector experiment, says: “PhD students, postdocs, and junior faculty will run into a lot of problems if you don’t publish them over the next few months.”

From the conversations I have had with my Russian colleagues, no one can accept what Russia has done in Ukraine.

Fedor Ratnikov

Choudhary notes that articles without names and institutions may be accepted within experiments, but may not be accepted by outside scientists and faculty, and institutions care about mentions when providing their rankings. As for the funding agencies, if they’re not accepted, “I can tell you… they’re not going to react very well.”

Last spring, the CERN council decided to terminate the observer status of the Russian Federation and its cooperation agreements with Belarus when it expires in two years (Ukraine is an associate member of CERN, whose regular members are 22 European countries and Israel, and has cooperation covering several countries. ) a dozen countries around the world). A Cern spokesperson said, “The measures [the military invasion of an associate member state]”The decision leaves the door ajar for peaceful scientific cooperation in the future, if conditions permit,” he said.

Regarding publications, at an LHC board meeting in October, Cern’s management acknowledged that “debating in collaborations is very difficult” and urged the various experiments’ own boards that “authorship should be scientifically based”.

Ratnikov, who worked on accelerator-based experiments for American and German institutes before returning to Moscow as a professor in 2016, believes that the biggest problem is not the stagnation in publications. “From my conversations with my Russian colleagues, no one can accept what Russia is doing in Ukraine. They just keep doing their job: doing scientific research, teaching students… [We] Although this negative pressure has passed over the years at CERN, sometimes a significant part of it. [a scientist’s] Life spent on the success of the CERN experiments.”

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According to John Ellis, professor at King’s College London and senior theoretical physicist at CERN: “Russians working at CERN are covered by international cooperation agreements. If these collapse, there will be no legal basis for their work in Switzerland, and yet some have signed open letters protesting. [against] war.” He explains that the termination of observer status in 2024 provides coverage until then in hopes of a permanent diplomatic solution, but calls for “protection of scientists” in general.

Although unique, the status of LHC experiments is part of a broader trend. The German Research Foundation warned scientists not to publish with co-authors from Russian institutes. The Web of Science database, which tracks citations, stopped evaluating articles from Russia. There have been reports of individual peer review reviewers rejecting articles. And while Russian institutes are excluded from international projects, some areas are seeing direct impact, such as climate change research, which has been backed by the suspension of cooperation in the Arctic.

In a letter published in Science Last spring, five leading western scientists urged their colleagues not to “abandon Russian scientists.” One of them is Nina Fedoroff, professor of biology honorary at Pennsylvania State University. [the situation] It seems quite symbolic”. According to him, science diplomacy “can distinguish bad actors from good actors, but we do this much less than we can through official channels.”

As for the LHC impasse, the folks at Cern point to a solution implemented in the Belle II particle physics experiment in Japan. Belle II began listing authors with institute memberships, which was replaced by Orcid (open researcher and contributor identity), a commonly used identification scheme in physics research that links authors to their institutions. However, the Polish government reportedly objected to this tactic, refusing to acknowledge the outright neglect of Polish connections. The issue is still in the air.

As the international particle physics community finds itself in unusual uncertainty for scientists like Ellis, “Continuing scientific collaboration is a top priority as a great way to bring nations together to solve humanity’s problems.” Or, as Fedoroff puts it: “During the so-called cold war, interactions between Russian and American physicists and between physicists and respective governments were credited with keeping the war cold.”

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