In 2008, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) will launch the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the biggest international collider project in the world. Historically, beside Europe itself, the US was France’s primary partner in this field. Yet with the spectacular development of Asian countries in the past decade, and their growing involvement in international particle collider projects, it was high time French physicists started developing their collaboration with their colleagues out East. This is why CNRS’ National Institute for Nuclear and Particle Physics (IN2P3), in tight partnership with universities, CEA, and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has set about strengthening its ties with Asia.
As official structures, LIAs (International Associated Laboratories) are crucial in the building of such partnerships, providing financial, human, and coordination resources. LIAs also make it easier for students to obtain visas to study in France and expedite the burdensome procedures involved in traveling abroad.
One such LIA called FV-PPL is set to open in Vietnam. Both countries are working on a convention that will create a framework for a true Franco-Vietnamese scientific community in this field of research. Two directors, one from each country, will oversee the lab and organize regular seminars to stimulate research ideas and facilitate exchanges. Francois Le Diberder, deputy scientific director of IN2P3 for particle physics, trusts that Vietnam will one day be a full-fledged player in large-scale collider projects. Already many Vietnamese students are being trained in French labs in the field of nuclear and high energy physics. “With the FV-PPL LIA, we aim to assist in training part of the future scientific elite of the country,” says Le Diberder. “The young researchers who come study in France, and later do research for a couple of years at CERN, for example, will then go back to Vietnam and help train engineers and technicians in physics.”
Since 2006, three similar LIAs have been set up in Japan, China, and South Korea. French and Japanese physicists inaugurated their first LIA in particle physics (FJ-PPL) in May 2006. This joint collaboration has focused on the LHC and on the International Linear Collider (ILC) project, a linear particle accelerator that will eventually come to complete LHC results, in the early 2020s. Like the others, this LIA covers activities that are not limited to the high energy frontier of the field. It also encompasses other fields like neutrino and quark-flavor physics, cosmology, or medical applications. “The founding of the Franco-Japanese LIA helped establish a climate of trust that enabled a closer cooperation between high-energy physicists from the two countries,” explains Le Diberder. FJ-PPL is already a success story. For instance, Japan is today directly linked to France for the processing of LHC data. Similarly, two competing projects of detectors for the ILC, one mainly Asian, and one mainly European, were merged into a single common project.
A year later, in April 2007, the creation of the France-China Particle Physics Laboratory (FC-PPL) made the long standing–but informal– collaborations between the two countries official. FC-PPL is just as successful as its Japanese counterpart. Today, Franco-Chinese collaboration in this field involves dozens of researchers in both countries. All four LHC experiments are represented in the LIA, including their critical grid computing component, together with ILC R&D for the detectors. All of IN2P3’s labs involved in high energy physics now work with China, illustrating the country’s growing interest in this field.
Finally, the Korea Particle Physics Laboratory (FK-PPL) was born last March. This LIA is meant to reinforce existing collaborations in the fields of high energy physics and computer grids. In particular, French and Korean physicists are now working on the development of new detectors for ILC. The leading CNRS laboratory is located in Clermont-Ferrand where, beside grid applications to medicine, collaboration with Korean colleagues centers on ALICE, one of the four detectors of the LHC. A strong partnership was also established between IN2P3’s computing center and the Korean national center for computer science resources, KISTI. Using grid technology, data from ALICE will now be jointly analyzed by Korea and France.
With four LIAs strategically placed throughout Asia, the next step in the IN2P3’s vision will be to create an International Associated Institute (IIA), a structure that will one day federate all four international laboratories and anchor CNRS as a leading partner in the region.