research of subatomic physics, helsinki institute of physics

Here, Professor Katri Huitu discusses the Helsinki Institute of Physics’ role in Finnish research of subatomic physics

Experimental research of subatomic physics involves notoriously many aspects of physics, technology, industry, and also finances and management. Organising top national research and always scarce economic resources to produce world class results from work with leading global research laboratories, such as CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, in Geneva, Switzerland with more than 13000 global users, is a major undertaking. In Finland this work is done by Helsinki Institute of Physics (HIP), which successfully coordinates research with CERN and contributions to FAIR, the Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research, currently constructed in Darmstadt, Germany.

HIP – national priorities and agile execution

HIP is a national institute and organisation operated by five major Finnish universities in geographically separate cities: Helsinki, Jyväskylä, Espoo, Tampere and Lappeenranta. In addition, the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK, Helsinki) is an interim member since 2018.

The extensive expertise related to accelerator research from all involved institutes is fully utilised in the close collaboration with leading international accelerator centres CERN and FAIR. HIP currently covers a continuum of research topics from theoretical physics, analyses of accelerator experiments, experimental setups and instrumentation, as well as technology development all the way to the commercialisation of products in collaboration with technology industries.

All research in HIP since its foundation in 1996 is organised in fixed-term projects which ensures renewal of research. Projects are counterbalanced by CERN experiments that require longer-term commitment. Current research activities of HIP are organed in four programmes, which in turn consist of several 3-year projects. Decisions of programmes and projects are done by HIP Board representing member universities and personnel. Board decides also use of funding for the programmes. Scientific expertise for these decisions comes from an influential Scientific Advisory Board, which annually evaluates the performance of the Institute in a two-day visit and gives recommendations on how to proceed.

HIP research programmes – from theory to experiments to technology

Currently the main research focus of HIP is on three of the CERN LHC experiments: ALICE, CMS and TOTEM, where Finnish scientists contribute significantly to ultra-relativistic heavy-ion physics, new physics searches, standard model measurements and forward physics. The full physics exploitation of these, including the preparation of their high luminosity phase, constitute the highest priority of the Finnish high-energy physics community. Computing and data access are an integral part of this physics exploitation. HIP participates in the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid through the Nordic and the HIP centers.

Participation in instrumentation is a prerequisite in experimental particle physics for accessing scientific data and for producing new physics. HIP Detector Laboratory for high-quality instrumentation is an essential infrastructure for successful participation in high energy physics experiments. HIP is also involved in other CERN experimental activities, such as ISOLDE, which provides radioactive ion-beams, and CLOUD setup, where climate change can be studied in a controllable laboratory environment. HIP is also actively contributing to two conceptually different designs of the next generation CERN particle colliders, compact linear electron-positron collider (CLIC) and future circular collider (FCC).

Since 2010 HIP has participated in construction of FAIR, the first priority international facility in the nuclear physics community research in Europe. FAIR will provide unique experimental opportunities with antiproton and relativistic heavy-ion beams, as well as secondary radioactive ion, beams for a broad range of studies in atomic and plasma physics, hadron and nuclear physics and in astrophysics. At the moment Finnish priority is the FAIR NUSTAR experiment. HIP group is involved in the FAIR phase-0 experiments that will start soon and the FAIR facility should be in full use for physics by 2026.

Researchers of the successful HIP theory programme work e.g. on extensions of the Standard Model (SM) of particle physics. The SM is among the most precise theories of physics but eventually needs to be extended – the fact that galaxies do not disintegrate requires that so-called Dark Matter increases their gravitational pull. Dark Matter is not part of the Standard Model. HIP theorists scrutinise the SM in various ways and suggest ways to test it. In addition to accelerators, tests include satellite missions, dark matter experiments, and gravitational wave experiments such as European Space Agency’s (ESA) future gravitational wave satellite mission LISA. The quality of the theory programme is demonstrated by the fact that currently two of the five theory project leaders have an ERC grant.

The accelerated expansion of the Universe also requires beyond the SM explanations. HIP personnel participate in ESA’s Euclid satellite mission, which will be one of the most important cosmology missions for the next decade. Further synergies with ESA are sought in relation to the harsh radiation environments operations. Technological aspects of radiation safety are developed in close collaboration with STUK. HIP also collaborates closely with Business Finland, the Finnish agency for supporting and funding innovations, with focus on CERN-related new business ideas. Technology related activities seek active partnerships from industry and improve connections of Finnish companies to CERN and FAIR.

Tightly connected to the HIP CMS group, HIP’s Open Data and Education is a showcase project for Open Science, where huge amounts of data from CERN is made available for wider use in the scientific community and for school education. The HIP project is in a pivotal role and has given courses for several years to high school teachers on use of open data in education. The project also organises High School visits to CERN: since 2000 almost 5400 students from close to 400 schools have visited CERN. HIP Detector Laboratory also provides hands-on education on instrumentation. These kind of outreach activities are an integral part of HIP.

Boosting HIP community spirit

The geographically and scientifically extended research programme of HIP has a risk to lose focus of research and the activities become scattered. In order not to overlook common goals, meetings of the whole HIP community are indispensable. A focal point of internal communication in near future is on communications via various information channels, personnel activities in wellbeing groups of member institutions, and organisation of meetings for the whole community.

Enthusiastic personnel doing world class research will keep Finland’s contribution to accelerator related physics strong in the future!


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