„The right balance between main research axes and diversity“

Strategy debates

At the CHIPP annual meeting from the 24 to 26 June 2013 in Sursee, particle physicists active in Switzerland have discussed the 'European Strategy for Particle Physics', which had been released one month earlier by the CERN council. The strategy defines the fields of research and the large-scale projects that particle physicists want to develop in the future. The central elements of the strategy are the operation and disassembling of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, as well as the European participation in the project of a new linear accelerator (International Linear Collider, ILC). Tatsuya Nakada, physics professor at the EPF Lausanne (EPFL), share his impressions.

EPFL-Professor Tatsuya Nakada.
Image: Benedikt Vogel

Prof. Nakada, you presided the committee of experts that prepared the European strategy for particle physics. Why does particle physics need such a strategy?

Tatsuya Nakada: I presided the preparation group that collected scientific input from an open symposium in September 2012 in Krakow and advisory opinions from around the world. Apart from that, I presided the strategy group that prepared the strategy document itself. Particle physicists usually need large and complex research facilities to be able to perform their experiments. Facilities of this kind require a lot of time to be designed, and the costs are considerable. This is the main reason why we need a strategy, and only so can we design the necessary research facilities in an appropriate way. We can't build everything we want. We have to set priorities.

What was the main challenge in the formulation of the strategy?

To find the right balance between main research axes and diversity. In the current socio-economic environment, we can't realise all the things that we consider important. We have to focus on some main axes. On the other hand, genuine breakthroughs in science often arise as complete surprises from an unexpected direction. It is therefore very important to preserve some diversity.

In your opinion, what is the main success of the European strategy for particle physics?

We have agreed on a number of strategic statements that have a certain tension between them, e.g. setting main research axes while requiring diversity. Or to fulfil Europe's ambition to keep playing a leading role in the future of high energy physics, and at the same time to be ready to take part in global projects that will be realised outside Europe. We also managed eventually to make this strategy adopted by the particle physics community as 'our' common strategy.

The European strategy makes the assumption that a new linear collider should be built in Japan. Does it means that Geneva, home of CERN, will lose its status as the heart of the worldwide particle physics community?

By no means! If you really want to believe in global projects, then you must also be ready to support them even if they take place outside your own region. Otherwise you can't claim to be the heart of the global particle physics community. The next accelerator at CERN, which will replace the current LHC one day, will have to be a global project. If we are not ready to support a breakthrough in other projects and other regions of the world, then how can we expect support from these other regions for our own project?

Do you think that particle physicists have full support from the political institutions in Europe and worldwide?

It's very probably not a 'full' support. But I believe that we have a strong support. I think that the public in Europe shares our fascination for particle physics in general. This is the most important point.

In practice, how is the work of Swiss particle physicists affected by the European strategy?

The European strategy has been approved by the CERN council. But it is then the member states that have to define their own national strategy for particle physics in tune with the European one. In Switzerland, the Swiss Institute for Particle Physics (CHIPP) has this responsibility. As the organisation of Swiss particle physicists and thanks to its good relations with the funding agencies and government, CHIPP is well equipped to perform this task.

Interview Benedikt Vogel (released 1 July 2013)

  • Tatsuya Nakada, physics professor at the EPF Lausanne (EPFL).
  • EPFL-Professor Tatsuya Nakada.
  • Tatsuya Nakada, physics professor at the EPF Lausanne (EPFL).Image: BV / Benedikt Vogel1/2
  • EPFL-Professor Tatsuya Nakada.Image: Benedikt Vogel2/2


  • Elementary particles
  • Particle Physics