University of São Paulo: After 12 years, Brazil signs an agreement and advances in the accession process as a member of CERN

On March 2, Brazil signed its adhesion as a member to the European Center for Nuclear Research (Cern), home to the LHC particle accelerator. This is not the final stage of entry: the proposal still needs to be ratified in the National Congress and the Senate. Even so, it is an important step – it took 12 years of negotiations between countries until the agreement was signed. Until now, Brazil has been involved in the experiments through associated institutions, such as universities, including USP.

For Brazilian researchers, an advantage is that associate members can participate in internships and hires by CERN, in addition to having representatives of the country on the institution’s boards. “From the point of view of scientific policy, the association as a member also opens an opportunity for researchers to collaborate in connection with the productive sector of the country, which will be a supplier of CERN”, explains to the Jornal da USP Marco Leite, researcher at the Institute of Physics at USP and in the Atlas, one of the seven experiments that make up the LHC.

Like other members, Brazil must make an annual contribution to CERN, whose percentage change is linked to GDP. For those who wonder if we have conditions or if this is interesting for a nation like Brazil, Leite reminds us that it is not just the countries of the largest economies that are members. “Croatia, India, Lithuania, Pakistan, Turkey and Ukraine have already joined and are in the pre-stage of the association Slovenia and Cyprus”, he exemplifies.

“What is important is that part of this contribution goes back to the associated country with the possibility of it participating in all the bidding processes for CERN’s goods and services. And there is a balance to balance this, in addition to being an opportunity for companies to qualify to meet the demands of very high technology. If Brazil contributes a greater amount, but few national companies are hired by CERN in the period, Brazilian companies will increase in priority in the next bids. The idea is that companies of all members have the opportunity to involve their productive sector in the bidding process”, explains Marco Leite.


And what products and services can Brazil provide? We can look at the case of Sirius, which had a relevant participation of the national industry. “Several national companies contributed with an important part of the instrumentation, in the precision mechanics part, for example. There are also companies in the area of ​​electrical infrastructure and telecommunications that could very well be CERN’s suppliers in terms of what they already supply to the domestic market. We have many examples of national products that have very good quality; from parts and pieces to complete equipment, such as those produced in the automobile industry for testing, manufacturing systems, among others”, lists the professor, also mentioning the aspect of professional training at all levels, both in academia and industry.

Regarding the delay in signing, he explains that this depended mainly on advances on the part of Brazil. More recently, there was a delegation from the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovations (MCTI) that went to CERN to visit the facilities and talk to the groups, and the person responsible for CERN’s international relations was also in Brazil.

CERN also set a deadline for defining the issue. After that date, the membership rules for new members would be different, slightly less advantageous than the old rules. “Fortunately, that decision was made, although it took a long time. I would not say that the obstacle was a matter of the resource itself, but more related to understanding the positive implications that this will bring to the country.”

In relation to ratification by the Legislature, despite being optimistic, Marco Leite emphasizes the need for commitment from the scientific community. “The ball is now in our court. The outcome will largely depend on how the high-energy physics community mobilizes. It is difficult to talk about the future, but at the moment I am confident that we will work to make it happen.”

“Maybe a few years ago I was more skeptical, but when you start fighting to make things happen, you have to have a certain degree of optimism. I believe there are sensitive people in the administration, in the Legislature, but they need to be convinced, receiving information from us, about how important this is for the country. If we miss this opportunity now, I don’t know if there will be another attempt. So we need to be very committed. It is not that not joining CERN will make Brazilian participation in the experiments unfeasible, but joining will be an important facilitator.”

In countries like the United States, there is already a greater tradition of the research community working together with government representatives to fight for investment in the demands of science.

“I know that in the US the community plays a key role in Congress and the Senate to get budgets passed and big projects to come to fruition. And here in Brazil, many colleagues talked to legislators, for example, in relation to funding cuts and some things happened, even if it wasn’t everything we expected. These are important demands that, if we don’t speak up, won’t go forward.”

LHC is the acronym for Large Hadron Collider. A gigantic machine to accelerate various particles – called hadrons – and make them collide at speeds above 99.9% the speed of light. When they collide with such intense energy, almost “mini laboratory Big Bangs” (but without offering any risk to our existence, well to say), they break into fundamental particles. Particles not found alone in the Universe since the real Big Bang; quark is an example. In this way, scientists can study matter and the forces that interact with it at the most fundamental level.

For this, it is necessary to test, repeat the collisions several times, analyze the data that is generated. Develop advanced technology. Which also results in collateral, unplanned inventions. The World Wide Web, for example, was invented at Cern. It was working there that Tim Berners Lee created the WWW protocol with the aim of sharing materials and data with scientists in other countries.

Brazil at Cern today

In 2019, Jornal da USP made this special report about the new phase of experiments at CERN and the work of Brazilian researchers there. Professor Marco Leite, who attended to us at the time, tells us about the progress since then.

“We ended a period of data collection, just before the pandemic, but a very ambitious program was already underway to update the experiments at the LHC itself, which is much larger than what we had in previous years and with several Brazilian groups working in the pre-production part, not just the investigation.”

He reports that there has already been progress, despite restrictions during the pandemic, in the collaboration of projects to update the experiments. “A new data collection will now be started, and this already incorporates some work that was done by Brazilian groups and USP in the projects – in our case, by Atlas and Alice. The capacity of both has already been upgraded and what is being done now is what we call commissioning, which are the final tests to start the new round. This should go on for a few years and then we will have a new stop to update.”

For those who are amazed at the time perspective measured in years, he reminds us that science in general, and the area in which he works in particular, requires planning, investment and training for a scale of decades. “These are not short-term projects and we already have to start training people for the next challenges.”

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