The Asia-Europe-Pacific School of High-Energy Physics (AEPSHEP) provides a unique learning experience as well as lifelong connections for early-career researchers. Joe McEntee talked to two of the lead organisers behind this year’s school in South Korea.
Collaboration, connection and collective conversation proved to be the defining themes for the biannual Asia-Europe-Pacific School of High-Energy Physics (AEPSHEP) – a two-week, residential “intensive” that took place in PyeongChang, South Korea, back in October for an international cohort of 96 postgraduate physics students and junior postdocs. Delayed by two years owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, AEPSHEP 2022 (the fifth instalment of the school) covered the latest advances in elementary particle physics from an experimental and phenomenological perspective, with the focus of the teaching programme, for the most part, on accelerator-based research programmes in Asia and Europe, as well as other related fields such as astroparticle physics and cosmological aspects of high-energy physics.
One thing is certain: AEPSHEP is not for the faint-hearted or the semi-committed. With 15 guest lecturers and six expert facilitators, the 12 days (and 13 nights) of the school are an exercise in total immersion, covering an expansive canvas at the frontiers of high-energy physics. The hot-house academic programme comprised 32 plenary lectures (each at 90 mins); nine afternoon breakout sessions for parallel discussion groups (each at 90 mins); an evening poster session (that lasted until almost midnight); and another evening session for student project presentations. Teaching also continued during the two weekends of the school, including a keynote video lecture by Takaaki Kajita (co-recipient of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of neutrino oscillations) and an online Q&A session with Fabiola Gianotti, director-general of CERN.
Learning together, working together
So how was it for you? Four PhD students talk to CERN Courier about the joys of in-person (rather than virtual) learning, networking and collaboration
at AEPSHEP 2022 in South Korea.
Vismaya V S, IIT Hyderabad, India. Home country: India. Area of research: Belle II experiment (Tsukuba, Japan)
“AEPSHEP 2022 proved to be a fantastic learning and development opportunity, allowing me to familiarise myself with the diverse experiments and research being carried out across the field of high-energy physics – and well beyond the immediate area of interest for my PhD studies. We also had the opportunity to interact with leading experts in this area, which in and of itself is motivating. The highlight of each day was the discussion group session, which helped all of us to understand core topics in greater detail and to overcome our public speaking anxieties and uncertainties. We were encouraged to pursue a career in high-energy physics by the coordinators, students and lecturers alike and will carry this knowledge with us for the remainder of our voyage.”
Aashwin Basnet, Ohio State University, US. Home country: Nepal. Area of research: CMS experiment
“AEPSHEP 2022 has been one of the highlights of my PhD experience, primarily because it’s the biggest in-person scientific event that I have attended post-COVID. One of the strongest aspects of the school was the perfect blend of lectures on conventional particle-physics topics – QCD, neutrinos, electroweak theory and the like – along with several higher-level workshops/talks focusing on the current status and future prospects for experiments in high-energy physics. It goes without saying that I learned a lot of new physics – not just from the lecturers and the discussion leaders, but also from my fellow students. I am certain that this will open up new avenues for potential research collaborations in the future. On top of all that, the opportunity to visit new places and immerse myself in the local culture of South Korea was outright refreshing.”
Juhee Song, Hanyang University, Seoul. Home country: South Korea. Area of research: CMS experiment
“As one of the local students participating in AEPSHEP 2022, the lecture programme opened my eyes to a much a broader view of the high-energy physics community. The discussion groups were especially useful, giving students a chance to ask questions and explore topics from the main lecture programme in more detail, and I also enjoyed the interactive aspects of the poster session and group project work. What I liked most, though, was meeting many new friends and potential future colleagues. My graduate studies started at the beginning of the pandemic, which has made it difficult to forge new relationships within the research community. After attending this school, many of us plan to stay in touch and are already looking forward to meeting up again at future conferences and workshops. I’m sure that AEPSHEP will be a turning point for my career because I’m super-motivated to study more.”
Henrikas Svidras, DESY, Germany. Home country: Lithuania. Area of research: Belle II experiment
“Owing to the pandemic restrictions of the past three years, AEPSHEP provided one of the few opportunities for me as a PhD student to socialise at a professional and personal level with colleagues from many different experiments – and multiple continents. The two weeks of lectures, discussion groups and social events created a real sense of kinship among students. We were able to laugh about the things we disliked, while appreciating the things we all enjoyed. I believe that the ability to reassess topics that many of us last studied in our undergraduate courses helped us to see how much we have learned through our subsequent research work. As I work towards finishing up my PhD thesis, I am very happy to have been able to attend AEPSHEP 2022.”
Although mask-wearing indoors was mandatory owing to local COVID restrictions, “it was evident from very early on that the AEPSHEP 2022 students were eager, post-lockdown, to embrace the opportunity for face-to-face learning and interaction with their peers and their lecturers,” explains Martijn Mulders, head of the AEPSHEP international organising committee (and a CERN research physicist working on the CMS experiment). “The afternoon breakout groups, in particular, were a great way for students to really get to know each other,” he continues, “while also affording the opportunity to ask questions of the facilitators and explore the core lecture content in real depth.”
For Mulders, the strength of AEPSHEP lies in its self-organised, community-driven working model. As such, operational responsibilities are carved up between an international advisory board, an international organising committee and a local organising committee (co-chaired in this instance by TaeJeong Kim, a particle physicist at Hanyang University in Seoul and current spokesperson for all Korean research groups working on the CMS experiment). “AEPSHEP is a case study in international and inter-laboratory collaboration,” notes Mulders. “In addition to the major contribution from South Korea, as host country, there was international sponsorship from the likes of CERN, KEK (Japan), DESY (Germany), as well as CEA and IN2P3 in France.”
That emphasis on international partnership is reinforced by the diversity of attendees at this year’s AEPSHEP, with 29 different nationalities represented across the student group (and 37 of them women). “The impact of AEPSHEP on students’ professional development is far-reaching,” claims Mulders. “The school brings together physicists from many countries who would not ordinarily get to collaborate with each other, while students from developing countries gain access to a unique and fast-track learning opportunity with the help of AEPSHEP travel grants and sponsorship.”
Those views are echoed by TaeJeong Kim and the AEPSHEP local organising committee, who worked closely with Mulders and his international colleagues to co-develop the lecture programme and schedule of guest lecturers. “The international nature of AEPSHEP – at all levels of the planning and delivery – reflects the inherently global nature of the high-energy physics community,” Kim explains. “In this way, the school helps early-career researchers to experience and understand different cultures, while giving them the skills and confidence to work with people from a wide range of backgrounds.”
Notwithstanding those longer-term outcomes, the local organising committee is also front-and-centre regarding the day-to-day coordination and smooth running of the event – a not inconsiderable undertaking given the two-week teaching programme. “Attention to detail is everything – transport, accommodation, special dietary requirements and helping students and lecturers alike with the language barrier,” explains Kim. The choice of venue was also key, with the Alpensia mountain resort (which hosted the 2018 Winter Olympics) providing an optimum environment for learning and student interaction.
“Alpensia is isolated, but not too isolated,” notes Kim. “It’s important to get the balance right with the venue, allowing students the opportunity to experience Korean culture up close while also ensuring there are not too many distractions.” With this in mind, the local organising committee opened up space in the AEPSHEP schedule for two excursions: an afternoon trip to the nearby Woljeonsa Temple complex, including a contemporary autumn festival; also a full-day excursion to visit the Demilitarised Zone at the border with North Korea, followed by a few hours in the beach town of Gangneung.
AEPSHEP, in many ways, provides a launchpad for early-career scientists intent on a future in high-energy physics. “The networking and learning opportunities for students attending the school are fundamental to the event’s sustained success,” argues Kim. “AEPSHEP creates connections and lifelong friendships between attendees, while simultaneously scaling the talent pipeline for the international high-energy physics community.”
AEPSHEP is a case study in international and inter-laboratory collaboration
The next iteration of AEPSHEP will be held in 2024, with Mulders anticipating plenty of interest when the open call for proposals is issued to candidate countries in the Asia-Pacific region. “An important aspect of AEPSHEP is capacity-building in the host country,” he concludes. “With backing from the likes of CERN and KEK, the school attracts significant visibility and recognition for high-energy physics at the domestic level – raising awareness with politicians, funding agencies, national media and the scientific community.”