Dividing Atomic Scientists: How Ukraine’s War Ruined Physics | CERN

IIn normal times, four large physics experiments using proton collisions at Cern’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland publish several scientific articles annually. But in March 2022, the number of new papers by the LHC experiments dropped to zero. Reason: lack of agreement on how, if any, Russian and Belarusian scientists and institutes should be included. The interim settlement, in place to date, is to not publish.

Publications are the hard currency of research, used to share information and evidence of the contributions of individuals and funding agencies. The LHC’s four largest experiments involve collaborations of thousands of scientists and engineers, with articles usually credited to all members of the project.

According to sources at Cern, after the invasion of Ukraine, some members objected to co-authorship with the Russian institutes and even with the individuals working for them (making up about 7% of the collaborators). Fedor Ratnikov, a Russian physicist, explains that there is no publication policy that meets the two-thirds majority required of the participating institutes in each collaboration. We have Ukrainian collaborators for whom this question is naturally very painful. [But] Most of my Ukrainian colleagues do not shift responsibility for the invasion onto their colleagues from Russian institutes. I would say some of my colleagues in the EU are more radical.”

The four big experiments at the Large Hadron Collider are devoted to the study of the Standard Model – the theory currently describing the smallest building blocks of the world – and, most importantly, of any deviations from it that might emerge. 

Properties of the Higgs boson 
For Atlas and CMS, the two “general purpose” workhorses, the properties of the Higgs boson are the new unknown. After establishing its presence a decade ago, scientists are still exploring how it interacts with other particles. Anything that differs from the Standard Model’s predictions would be a welcome arrival, particularly after years of no evidence of other proposed theories which complement the SM, such as supersymmetry. 

Matter-antimatter symmetry 
The LHCb experiment was built to look deeper at tiny differences between matter and antimatter involving the so-called beauty quark, one of the biggest enigmas in the current model. Since last summer the LHC conducts a larger number of collisions of protons at a higher energy, and researchers plan to see whether the discrepancies will solidify and uncover clues about them. 

The instant after the big bang 
The LHC does not collide protons alone, but also the nuclei of lead atoms, creating a state similar to that in the moment after the Big Bang. In previous years, ALICE (A Larger Ion Collider Experiment) has studied this “quark-gluon plasma”; it is now setting out to analyse the data. Eleni Petrakou 


Quick guide

CERN: What to look out for in 2023


The four big experiments at the Large Hadron Collider are dedicated to studying the Standard Model – the theory that currently describes the world’s smallest building blocks – and, more importantly, any deviations from it that might emerge.

Properties of the Higgs boson
For Atlas and CMS, which are getting “general purpose” work, the properties of the Higgs boson are the new unknown. After proving its existence a decade ago, scientists are still exploring how it interacts with other particles. Anything that differs from the predictions of the Standard Model would be a welcome arrival, especially after years of no evidence for other proposed theories complementing SM, such as supersymmetry.

Correspondence of matter and antimatter
The LHCb experiment was built to look deeper into the subtle differences between matter and antimatter involving a so-called beauty quark, one of the biggest mysteries of the current model. Since last summer, the LHC has conducted more proton collisions of higher energy, and the researchers plan to see if the discrepancies will solidify and reveal evidence for them.

The moment after the Big Bang
The LHC collides not only with protons, but also with the nuclei of lead atoms, creating a situation similar to that in the moment after the Big Bang. In previous years, ALICE (the Larger Ion Collider Experiment) had been studying “quark-gluon plasmas”. You are now preparing for data analysis. Eleni Petraco

Thank you for your feedback.

Andreas Hooker, a spokesperson for the Atlas experiment, asserts that the issue “only concerns the form of institutional recognition, given the statements of high-level representatives of Russian academic institutions…and the links of high-level funding bodies with the Russian government”.

Since March, the four LHC experiments have continued to prepare new articles, submit them to journals for peer review and hold publication freezes. The unpublished pipeline now includes more than 70 blocks.

Public versions are uploaded to arXiv’s prepress server, but both of them as well as articles submitted to journals lack a list of authors and funding agencies. Where in the past this list would have taken up several pages, there is now a generic reference, eg “Atlas Collaboration”.

Scientists from European countries and the United States say that so far there has been little impact on funding or awarding PhDs. However, a senior LHC scientist from outside Europe says, “Keep this political approach for a while, it could lead to problems for students, postdocs, and ourselves.” “If you don’t publish for the next few months, PhD students, postdocs and young faculty will face many problems,” says Brajesh Choudhary, a professor at the University of Delhi and member of the Cern detector experiment at Cern.

Chowdhury points out that articles without names and institutions may be accepted in experiments, but not by outside scholars and faculty, and that institutions care about references because they provide their order. For funding agencies, if it isn’t acknowledged, “I can tell you…they won’t react very favorably.”

Last spring, the CERN Council decided to terminate the Russian Federation’s observer status and cooperation agreements with Belarus when they expire in two years (Ukraine is an associate member of CERN, whose regular members include 22 European countries and Israel, with cooperation extending to several dozen countries throughout the scientist). A Cern spokesperson says that “Procedures address [the military invasion of an associate member state]which contradicts the values ​​of peaceful cooperation,” adding that “the decision leaves the door open for peaceful scientific cooperation, if circumstances permit in the future.”

Exterior of the Atlas Building at CERN. Photo: Claudia Marcelloni/CERN Atlas Project

In terms of publications, at the LHC board meeting in October, Cern management acknowledged that “discussion in collaborations is very difficult” and urged the boards on the various trials That “authorship must be based on scientific foundations.”

Ratnikov, who worked on accelerator-based experiments at US and German institutes before returning to Moscow in 2016 as a professor, believes publication hiatus is not the biggest problem. From discussions with my Russian colleagues, no one can accept what Russia is doing in Ukraine. They just continue to do their job: conducting scientific research, teaching students… [We] You have this negative pressure at Cern though many years, sometimes a big part of [a scientist’s] The life we ​​spent for the success of the Cern trials.”

According to John Ellis, a professor at King’s College London and a veteran theoretical physicist at Cern: “The Russians working at Cern are covered by international cooperation agreements. If these companies went under, there would be no legal basis for them to operate in Switzerland, yet some have signed open letters of protest.” [against] Ending observer status in 2024 provides cover until then, he explains, hoping for a lasting diplomatic solution, but calls for “overarching protection for scientists.”

Although unique, the state of the LHC experiments is part of a broader trend. The German Research Foundation warned the scientists against publishing with co-authors from Russian institutes. The Web of Science citation tracking database stopped evaluating articles from Russia. There have been reports of individual peer review referees rejecting articles. And with Russian institutes being excluded from international projects, some areas are seeing a direct impact — such as climate change research, which has been hobbled by the suspension of Arctic cooperation.

In a message posted on Sciences Last spring, five prominent Western scientists urged their colleagues not to “abandon Russian scientists.” One of them, Nina Fedoroff, professor emeritus of biology at Penn State University, says that “some [the situation] It seems very symbolic.” In her view, science diplomacy can “sort out the bad actors from the good actors, but we do it through formal channels far less than we could.”

As for the LHC quandary, the folks at Cern point to a solution implemented at the Belle II particle physics experiment in Japan. Belle II began listing authors with their institute affiliations, and replaced it with Orcid (Open Researcher and Contributor ID), an identification scheme widely used in physics research that connects authors to their institutions. However, the Polish government reportedly objected to this tactic, not accepting the explicit omission of Polish affiliations. The issue is still up in the air.

As the international particle physics community finds itself in an unfamiliar predicament, for scientists like Ellis, “maintaining scientific collaboration is a top priority, as a great way to bring nations together to solve humanity’s problems.” Or, as Fedorov points out: “During the so-called Cold War, interactions between Russian and American physicists and between physicists and their governments kept the war cold.”

Leave a Comment