In our blog, members of staff report on how they are experiencing and overcoming the crisis. Dr. Christian Sturm is project manager of mCBM@SIS18 experiment. In this project, a large part of the technology of the future FAIR detector CBM has been built as a pre-experiment at the current accelerator facility. Prototypes and pre-series modules of all CBM detector systems with their data readout systems are used. With mCBM it is already possible to test the interaction of detector systems, data readout and data transport to the computer farm of the Green IT Cube on a small scale, which will later be used as a large-scale experiment at FAIR. This interview took place in the experimental period in March/April 2020.
Which experiment are you currently working on?
Right now we have experiment time, i.e. we are using the small version of the future CBM detector to observe what happens when we shoot heavy particles with the highest energy and intensity at a target (usually gold targets). This pre-experiment is very important because we will set new records with CBM. Later we want to evaluate 10 million collisions per second online to observe extremely rare events.
How has the Corona pandemic changed your working day?
Our working day has been turned upside down. Normally 20 to 30 colleagues work here on site during the experiment. They come from the various universities in the area, but also from India, Russia, Poland and Romania. Now our international collaboration partners are not allowed to enter the country, and the participants from the universities of Münster, Frankfurt and Giessen cannot be present on site either.
But we were lucky and our experts made it possible in a very short time for all participants to be present from home. For example, data recording no longer has to be started on the computer directly on site, but can be initiated and monitored from outside via an encrypted connection. Detector components can also be configured by the specialists from outside. This enables the external specialists to fulfill many of their usual tasks. A PC in our experiment control room is used for communication, hosting a permanent dedicated line between all participants.
Life on campus has of course also changed completely. In the canteen there is only take-away food, but you can always get a parking space without any problems. The social contacts are missing, but in my opinion the services and infrastructure of GSI are still provided very smoothly and with excellent quality. We have been and still are excellently supported!
How do you organize the team and the collaboration work?
All meetings are now only conducted virtually via video conference. That works well. We have even held collaboration meetings with a large number of participants. But that is of course more strenuous, especially when you have to think with each other, when it comes to technical details of the experiment or problem solving, human contact is missing. But we can certainly improve a lot through enhanced technology: We are planning to purchase a good communication system for the mCBM control room so that people can speak freely anywhere in the room and communicate with colleagues outside. It is worth investing a little here, as this will also be a great help in the future.
Which work could be maintained, which had to stop?
So far, we can say that we have been able to carry out our measurements very well. This is mainly due to the fact that there is a small core team of three to four colleagues on site, who are very committed. My colleagues and I are keeping the experiment going here, taking strict safety precautions to minimize the health risk. If there are technical problems with the detector, we can often solve them on site with the help of the specialists joining us virtually. Just building new components is not possible. This is exhausting for us, but it works better than we thought and we will certainly retain much of this procedure in the future.
What measures did you take to continue working and minimize the health risks?
We wear face masks, some of which we made ourselves to protect others from us. We also keep a lot of distance. But the most important thing is that everyone in the small core team is aware of their responsibility and makes sure that they don’t take any risks in their private lives. We can rely on that.
What challenges did you face? Was there a situation where you and your team solved a particularly tricky problem because of or in spite of corona?
The biggest challenge was to implement the remote control and the new communication channels in the shortest possible time. Fortunately, our software experts were able to do this very quickly. For our colleagues in India and Russia, the time difference makes working difficult. Some of them are trapped in a lockdown at home, have to work at night and sometimes with poor internet connections. The motivation of all colleagues involved is sensational! We could not do without their specialist knowledge.
What do you wish for the near future?
Of course I wish that this difficult time will be over as soon as possible and I am looking forward to meeting colleagues, family and friends in person again soon. I am looking forward to working together on site again soon and to welcoming guests from all over the world to the campus. Until then, I hope that we can continue our experiments for the next few days (with a little more rest), as we still have an important question close to our hearts. I hope that after that it will be possible to build up new technology, because then we will be working on a big change. I hope that by 2021 at the latest, everyone will be back on campus in good health and we can carry out our next planned experiments.