What is “Big Science” infrastructure and what is it for? (part 1/5) | Agoria

What is “Big Science” infrastructure and what is it for? (part 1/5)

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Published on 19/04/21 by Christian Dierick
Europe has already spent several hundred billion euros on technology and buildings for large, complex research infrastructures. Everyone knows about underground particle accelerators of the CERN [European Organization for Nuclear Research] in Geneva, for instance. And the investments will continue: some €35 billion in expansion, repairs, new buildings, process lines, equipment, instruments, robotics, machines, etc. are earmarked in the EU for Big Science between 2020 and 2025 alone. But what is “Big Science” about?

In the sciences, pioneering work is usually done often by individual, strong scientists, who devise theories or predict phenomena on the basis of a particular theory.
These typically go on to become Nobel Prize winners, who are sometimes recognized only years later when their theories prove to be correct in tests carried out in gigantic "Big Science" experiments, which can be made possible only through international cooperation and funding.

The technical proof or practical application of a certain theory can be very difficult, in fact. How  do you simulate the fusion reactions of the sun as the ultimate energy source in a practical nuclear fusion machine on earth, for instance? Or how do you measure (and know) that two black holes in the universe can merge in a few seconds?

Decades after his death, Einstein is today at the origin of the planned "EINSTEIN TELESCOPE" (ET), for measuring gravity waves from space. ET will make it possible to test the theory of relativity (space-time curvature), black holes and neutron stars or go back in time to just after the Big Bang, the beginning of the universe. 

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by courtesy www.einsteintelescope.nl, Marco Kraan, Nikhef

Or consider Hans Bethe, who first described the proton-proton reactions of the sun that release enormous amounts of energy through nuclear fusion. Bethe's discovery is at the origin of the world's first net energy-generating nuclear fusion reactor, ITER, currently under construction in France.

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by courtesy ITER.org

Then there is Victor Hess, who discovered cosmic rays. This radiation, which acts on the atmosphere as a function of the sun's changing magnetism, appears to be one of the astrophysical forces behind cloud formation and related climate changes on Earth.

In the "CLOUD" experiment at the CERN in Geneva, for example, this link between cosmic radiation and cloud formation was confirmed experimentally in a laboratory environment, and has consequently contributed to a better understanding of one of the complex working mechanisms of the Earth's climate.   

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by courtesy CERN

Agoria is bundling, in a new "Big Science Belgium" platform, Belgian technology providers who are already active on the typical "Big Science" markets, or who have technology in house with an added value for the technology buyers of those large research infrastructures.

The purpose of this "broker platform" is to bring our companies and those technology buyers in contact with each other electronically, but also through physical business development activities, missions etc.   

We will discuss the typical technological challenges involved in building Big Science infrastructures, the typical technologies needed for this, and the business opportunities associated with projects such as ITER or the Einstein Telescope in some upcoming blogs. 

Christian Dierick,
Big Science Belgium coordinator
Christian.dierick@agoria.be

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