Very successful experiments, high-quality ion beams for research — the current experiment time on the GSI and FAIR campus delivered positive results even during the corona pandemic. In numerous areas, the existing accelerator facility has been able to provide researchers with a wide variety of ion beams and open the way for new discoveries and excellent research opportunities in the future. In our blog, members of staff report on how they are experiencing and overcoming the crisis.
Dr. Daniel Severin is the so-called beamtime coordinator at GSI. He coordinates the accepted experiments and is the interface between the scientists and the operating personnel of the accelerators. During the preparation phase, he arranges a detailed beamtime schedule, taking into account all technical and experimental boundary conditions as far as possible and to maximize number of experiments to be performed in the available time of accelerator operation. During operation, he organizes the daily “noon meeting” and arrangements between experiments and operation, while always allowing short-term adjustments. Interview by Carola Pomplun during the experimental period in March/April 2020.
How has your working day at GSI/FAIR changed due to the corona crisis?
Normally my daily routine consists of many meters on foot, because I have to walk a lot between our main control room (HKR) and the experimental stations and participants. Currently, I only work from home, all arrangements are made by telephone or video conferencing, including the daily noon meeting and my daily report to the management. That was a very fast adaption process.
Most of the scheduled experiments are driven by international research collaborations including many external scientists from other countries who were supposed to come to GSI/FAIR. Due to travel restrictions, this is no longer possible, so that some of the planned experiments had to be cancelled. However, we have decided to continue with those experiments that are still feasible and only require our local staff. In some cases, external researchers participate in running experiments via remote access and control e.g. special equipment like data acquisition systems. In other cases, they evaluate the data directly and provide feedback on how the ongoing experiment has to be adjusted.
What protective measures have you taken for the people who are still
We try to minimize the number of personnel on site so that only those persons who are absolutely necessary for operation and experiments are on campus at all. We also strictly observe the distance regulations at our workplaces. In the HKR, for example, the staff always sit at a distance of several meters. The area is completely closed to visitors. Even in the measurement areas of the experiments, a maximum of two persons per room are working if the safety distance can be kept. Where several hands are needed, for example during installations or repairs, we try to limit it to two people, who then work with protective equipment such as face masks and gloves. In general, we have greatly reduced the number of experiments and can also adapt the beamtime schedule at any time if the staffing situation requires it.
Normally we work in shifts during beamtime. At present, however, groups may not be able to cover individual shifts because people have to stay at home, for example to look after relatives and children. In this case, we interrupt the experiment and, if necessary, prefer to continue the experiment for additional days afterwards. Should the situation require it, we could also switch off completely at any time. I have received feedback from many colleagues that they feel safe and well protected at work. There is great understanding and a very responsible approach to the situation.
What was the biggest challenge that had to be overcome?
The weekend when the restrictions were declared by the state government was not easy. There was a great deal of uncertainty about how things would continue. This concerned not only the private situations of our colleagues, but of course also the continuation of our experimental program. I made many telephone calls, especially with the external experiment groups. We discussed both internally and with the external groups — quite controversially — whether we should continue in the best possible way or stop altogether. Whether it is technically feasible and also responsible to continue. My perception of GSI and FAIR is that we are very well able to adapt to changed circumstances and that we can do so on a broad basis supported by the entire staff. In my opinion we have found a good compromise which is backed up by everybody.
The running experiments are currently providing good results in high quality, so that continuing operation is really worthwhile. It must be remembered that it is not so easy to postpone the operating times, because even the shutdowns, when the accelerator is not running, are always tightly packed with maintenance work, new installations and repairs. So, the more experiments we can handle now, the easier it will be to plan the subsequent experiments, for example next year. But of course, all approved experiments that cannot be carried out at the moment will be rescheduled at a later date after re-evaluation.
What do you wish for the coming period?
The best thing, of course, would be if we had a vaccine against corona tomorrow and everything would relax again. For GSI and FAIR, I hope that we can maintain a mode in which everyone feels safe, so we can continue to do something productive for society. In which we show that with responsible safety handling, it is possible to keep going despite adverse conditions.
We can learn a lot from this situation, for example discovering new possibilities of working together in virtual ways. I am a little proud of how efficiently our groups and department heads work together during this crisis and, with the necessary consideration for needs, make everything possible in a very productive cooperation. But it would still be best if corona were over soon!