Careers | Phone Book | A - Z Index

The spirit of Lawrence’s Lab lives at CERN

July 8, 2004

Contact: Jon Bashor,

GENEVA, Switzerland ‑ Six thousand miles east of Berkeley, in the rolling countryside of the Swiss-French border, the spirit of Ernest Lawrence is alive and well.

Berkeley Lab’s founder is noted for many contributions to scientific knowledge, but two of his best-known ideas are the invention of the cyclotron and the idea of bringing together groups of people with a diversity of knowledge and expertise to take on the biggest scientific challenges.

At CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research, a precise model of Lawrence’s first cyclotron is part of an extensive display introducing visitors to particle physics research. Unseen by most visitors is a 27 kilometer long circular tunnel currently being revamped to house the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC. When it goes online in 2007, the LHC will smash protons from two beamlines into one another at energy levels never before achieved in laboratory conditions.

These collisions are expected to recreate the conditions found at the earliest time of our universe – just one quadrillionth of a second after the Big Bang. To understand what happens, a set of experiments have been designed and are being built to glean greater understanding of the universe. Two very large detectors in progress of being built, called ATLAS and CMS, will epitomize the Big Science approach favored by Lawrence.

In all, some 1,800 scientists from 150 institutions in 35 countries are working on ATLAS. Among them are a number of scientists from Berkeley Lab. Some of them, like Alessandra Ciocio of Physics, regularly fly into Geneva for a week of intensive meetings. Others, like David Quarrie and Mossimo Marino of NERSC’s High Energy Physics Group, have moved here for extended stays. In February, Quarrie will mark his second year here as the software project lead (he’s also served as the project’s chief software architect for four years) for ATLAS – a daunting task involving about 200 people, working as either individuals or in groups, spread around the world.

Both Quarrie and Ciocio greet visitors with a common question: Would you like to get some coffee? But it’s not just a pleasant diversion, it’s an integral way of working. CERN takes its coffee very seriously, whether you order it from the café on the ground floor of the 5-storey atrium in the center of the ATLAS office building or from the central cafeteria with its self-serve espresso machines.

“On most mornings we have coffee in the common areas. Getting together outside the office is a good venue to talk over issues that people may not want to discuss in a meeting and this way you can take the time you need to thoroughly discuss an issue before you resolve it,” Quarrie said, sipping a cup of strong coffee on the shaded patio of the cafeteria. “I’ve also found that it’s a low-stress opportunity for people to talk about the things that are really worrying them. Plus, it’s just a good way to get to know people so you feel comfortable working together.”

The coffee also helps keep things going. Ciocio, at CERN the last week of June to attend a series of meetings and present a progress report on her group’s efforts to deliver 550 silicon strip modules to be used in the ATLAS Inner Tracker Detector, says discussions typically continue over dinner and into the late evening. For her, visiting CERN is also something of a homecoming – she has worked here periodically since the 1980s and is greeted with handshakes and kisses on the cheek on arrival. CERN is also where she first met her husband, Kevin Einsweiler. As another Lab scientist in Physics who is working on detectors for ATLAS, Einsweiler is also a frequent visitor at CERN.

“I have hundreds of friends here, from the cashiers to the scientists,” Ciocio says, pausing to wave at a passerby. “When I go to pay in the cafeteria, the cashier asks me, `How are your kids. I saw your husband when he was here last week.´”

For Quarrie and his wife Avril, who retired from LBNL when they moved here in 2003, the transition has included making new friends. Both are avid Scottish dancers and they have joined a group in Geneva. Avril Quarrie has also immersed herself in French, German and pottery classes. They have bought a house in France – renting a place  was 50 percent more expensive than buying one – and enjoying walking among the vineyards surrounding CERN.

Like nearby Geneva, CERN has an indigenous international atmosphere. Not only does the Swiss-French border cut across the lab site, but conversations can be overheard in many languages, from English to French, German to Japanese, Italian to Spanish. The cafeteria accepts payment in both euros and Swiss francs, and sells French wine and Danish beer. Jets from the nearby airport take off noisily, connecting with the world.

But these global connections come at a price. Keeping in touch with far-flung collaborators often means coming in early and staying late. Ciocio said it´s not unsual for her group to hold simultaneous email exchanges with colleagues in England and Japan Quarrie said he often rides his bike in to start by 7:30 a.m. so he can have time to answer emails and collect his thoughts before meetings start at nine. Teleconferences with his group back at LBNL start after dinner and can go until 7:30 or 8 p.m.

“With all the time differences, it makes for a longish working day,” Quarrie said “I can’t remember the last time I worked a 40-hour week.”