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.
Professor Mei Bai is the head of the GSI business area “Accelerator Operations” which comprises departments entrusted with the development, maintenance and operation of the GSI accelerator facility. Her main tasks are to deliver beam for the experiments of FAIR Phase 0 and to make the existing facilities “fit for FAIR”. Interview by Carola Pomplun during the experimental period in March/April 2020.
Did the corona pandemic change your daily work routine?
At work, actually, not so much. I’m still mainly on campus during work hours and rarely work from home. As we decided to continue operation during the pandemic and the operation personnel for the machine is here, I feel I should be here, too. The captain of the ship can’t leave. However, many of my colleagues work from home now at least partly, e.g. rotating presence with a co-worker in the same office to reduce physical contact. I especially miss my team assistants who help me with a lot of work. In my private life it’s very different though. My partner is stuck in New York and we can’t see each other.
Which protective measures have you taken personally and for your teams?
I’m Asian and we are used to wearing masks. I have done so previously when having allergies or feeling a bit under the weather, this is not new to me. At the beginning there was a shortage of masks and disinfectant throughout the country. So we had to get creative. I want to thank my colleagues, especially Torsten Radon and Karsten Vogt from the “Task Force Health” and Christian Schmidt from the Detector Laboratory, for providing the operators with masks from their supplies and self-made disinfectant from the chemicals that were available in the lab. We’ve also received generous gifts from our colleagues in China at the Institute of Modern Physics and the Institute of High Energy Physics, who both sent us a large supply of masks.
Luckily, now the situation has relaxed a bit and the supplies are available again. They aren’t mandatory at most of the work stations, but we at least want to be able to offer them to the colleagues who feel safer wearing them. Also, we reduced the parallel operation so that staff at the main control room can work at a safe distance, and of course enforce to keep it and comply with the rules. I also strongly encourage people to take enough rest when needed and not overwork themselves. In a time like this you have to let your body and immune system stay strong and avoid overexertion.
What changed in the operation in comparison to the previous plan?
We decided to continue operation, however it had to be reduced significantly. Thankfully the management allowed us to keep running all the experiments that could be reasonably and safely performed. This has its up- and downsides. Many experiments unfortunately had to be cancelled, e. g. due to travel restrictions of external scientists, but it was also a chance for the ones that could be conducted. Some of them got more time than was originally scheduled during which meaningful physics data could be recorded. This is really significant for the PhD student and the team.
How do you organize work in your team now?
Physically I see people a lot less, but the amount of communication remains unchanged. We’ve just shifted it to e-mails and video conferences. Of course, one can’t just quickly go to someone’s office and have improvised discussions. But instead we call each other or send a link to join a video conference. All in all, the communication is very good, we’ve even met for an after-work “happy hour” via video conference.
What was a challenge you had to face?
We really had to make people understand about the safety. A situation like the corona pandemic is unprecedented and nobody knows all the details. It’s not my expertise and I can’t give judgement on the risks. So we have to be really strict about the guidelines given to us and convince everybody to abide by the rules. Luckily all my colleagues are healthy and so far no-one was affected by the pandemic, and we’d like to keep it that way.
What do you wish for the future?
I really wish this COVID-19 crisis will soon be behind us. Hopefully all will go back to normal as soon as possible, and my partner and I can re-unite again.