Friday, March 18, 2005

Putting the International in "International Linear Collider"

I'm sitting in the conference hall for the first day of sessions at the International Linear Collider Workshop (LCWS2005) at Stanford University. A large part of the first day's presentations are concerned with collaborative, political and management issues associated with this effort. For the large collaborations that are common in experimental particle physics, such issues are central to the project's success, although they remain largely invisible to anyone outside the collaboration. For the ILC this is even more true and, although I'm itching to get on to the physics part of the conference, I do find it somewhat fascinating to see how the cogs and wheels of a project like this are arranged to get the job done.

Perhaps the most important part of the ILC effort is its international nature. An incredibly rewarding part of being a physicist is that one is constantly engaged in intellectual endeavours with colleagues from across the planet. For a practicing physicist this is as natural as breathing and essential to making progress in our increasingly complex field. As an example, off the top of my head, during my career I've written papers with physicists from Albania, Algeria, America, Brazil, Canada, Croatia, England, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Romania, Russia, Spain and Switzerland (and I guarantee you I'm forgetting some).

Translating this natural international collaboration on intellectual topics into the political, financial and technological areas required to get the ILC to work is another challenge. To be successful one requires an ironclad physics case for the project, and coherent scientific and organizational messages from the physics community as a whole (not just high-energy physicists) for governments and the general public alike. Without these, the obstacles to a successful ILC may be insurmountable. People here seem very optimistic, but then again you'd expect them to be. I'll try to provide updates to this story at various points in the future, as things progress.
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