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Poland marks 30 years at CERN

29 June 2021

Three decades since the Polish flag was hoisted at the entrance to CERN, Tadeusz Lesiak recollects the genesis of Poland’s membership and reflects on its impact.

Rising up

When CERN was established in the 1950s, with the aim of bringing European countries together to collaborate in scientific research after the Second World War, countries from East and West Europe were invited to join. At the time, the only eastern country to take up the call was Yugoslavia. Poland’s accession to CERN membership in 1991 was therefore a particularly significant moment in the organisation’s history because it was the first country from behind the former Iron Curtain to join CERN. Its example was soon followed by a range of Eastern European countries throughout the 1990s.

At the origin of Polish participation at CERN was a vision of the three world-class physicists: Marian Danysz and Jerzy Pniewski from Warsaw and Marian Mięsowicz from Kraków, who had made first contacts with CERN in the early 1960s. The major domains of Polish expertise around that time encompassed the analysis of bubble-chamber data (especially those related to high-multiplicity interactions), the properties of strange hadrons, charm production, and the construction of gaseous detectors.

In 1963, Poland gained observer status at the CERN Council — the first country from Eastern Europe to do so. During the subsequent 25 years, almost out of nothing, a critical mass of national scientific groups collaborating with CERN on everyday basis was established. By the late 1980s, the CERN community recognised that Poles deserved full access to CERN. With the feedback and support of their numerous brilliant pupils, Danysz, Pniewski and Mięsowicz had accomplished a goal which had seemed impossible. Today, Poland’s red and white flag graces the membership rosters of all four major Large Hadron Collider (LHC) experiments and beyond.

Poland30 Wired in

Entering the fray
Poland joined CERN two years after the start-up of the Large Electron Positron Collider (LEP), the forerunner to the LHC. Having already made strong contributions to the
construction of LEP’s DELPHI experiment, in particular its silicon vertex detector, electromagnetic calorimeter and RICH detectors, Polish researchers quickly became involved in DELPHI data analyses, including studies of the properties of beauty baryons and searches for supersymmetric particles.

Poland’s accession to CERN membership 30 years ago was the very first case of the return of our nation to European structures

With the advent of the LHC era, Poles became members of all four major LHC-experiment collaborations. In ALICE we are proud of our broad contribution to the study of the quark gluon plasma using HBT-interferometry and electromagnetic probes, and of our participation in the design of and software development for the ALICE time projection chamber. Polish contributions to the ATLAS collaboration encompass not only numerous software and hardware activities (the latter concerning the inner detector and trigger), but also data analyses, notably searching for new physics in the Higgs sector, studies of soft and elastic hadron interactions and a central role in the heavy-ion programme. Involvement in CMS has revolved around the experiment’s muon-detection system, studies of Higgs-boson production and its decays to tau leptons, W+W interactions and searches for exotic, in particular long-lived, particles. This activity is also complemented by software development and coordination of physics analysis for the TOTEM experiment. Last but not least, Polish groups in LHCb have taken important hardware responsibilities for various subdetectors (including the VELO, RICH and high-level trigger) together with studies of b->s transitions, measurements of the angle γ of the CKM matrix and searches for CPT violation, to name but a few.

Beyond colliders
The scope of our research at CERN was never limited to LEP and the LHC. In particular, Polish researchers comprise almost one third of collaborators on the fixed-target experiment NA61/SHINE, where they are involved across the experiment’s strong-interactions programme. Indeed, since the late 1970s, Poles have actively participated in the whole series of deep-inelastic scattering experiments at CERN: EMC, NMC, SMC, COMPASS and recently AMBER. Devoted to studies of different aspects of the partonic structure of the nucleon, these experiments have resulted in spectacular discoveries, including the EMC effect, nuclear shadowing, the proton “spin puzzle”, and 3D imaging of the nucleon.

Poland30 Hands on

Polish researchers have also contributed with great success to studies at CERN’s ISOLDE facility. One of the most important achievements was to establish the coexistence of various nuclear shapes, including octupoles, at low excitation energy in radon, radium and mercury nuclei, using the Coulomb-excitation technique. Polish involvement in CERN neutrino experiments started with the BEBC bubble chamber, followed by the CERN Dortmund Heidelberg Saclay Warsaw (CDHSW​) experiment and, more recently, participation in the ICARUS experiment and the T2K near-detector as part of the CERN Neutrino Platform. In parallel, we take part in preparations for future CERN projects, including the proposed Future Circular Collider and Compact Linear Collider. In terms of theoretical research, Polish researchers are renowned for the phenomenological description of strong interactions and also play a crucial role in the elaboration of Monte Carlo software packages. In computing generally, Poland was the regional leader in implementing the grid computing platform.

The past three decades have brought a few-fold increase in the population of Polish engineers and technicians involved in accelerator science. Experts contributed significantly to the LHC construction, followed by the services (e.g. electrical quality assurance of the LHC’s superconducting circuits) during consecutive long shutdowns. Detector R&D is also a strong activity of Polish engineers and technicians, for example via membership of CERN’s RD51 collaboration which exists to advance the development and application of micropattern gas detectors. These activities take place in the closest cooperation with national industry, concentrated around cryogenic applications. Growing local expertise in accelerator science also saw the establishment of Poland’s first hadron-therapy centre, located at the Institute of Nuclear Physics PAN in Kraków.

Poland@CERN 2019 saw over 20 companies and institutions represented by around 60 participants take part in more than 120 networking meetings

Collaborations between CERN and Polish industry was initiated by Maciej Chorowski, and there are numerous examples. One is the purchase of vacuum vessels manufactured by CHEMAR in Kielce and RAFAKO in Racibórz, and parts of cryostats from METALCHEM in Kościan. Industrial supplies for CERN were also provided by KrioSystem in Wrocław and Turbotech in Płock, including elements of cryostats for testing prototype superconducting magnets for the LHC. CERN also operates devices manufactured by the ZPAS company in Wolibórz, while Polish company ZEC Service has been awarded CMS Gold awards for the delivery and assembly of cooling installations. Creotech Instruments – a company established by a physicist and two engineers who met at CERN – is a regular manufacturer of electronics for CERN and enjoys a strong collaboration with CERN’s engineering teams. Polish companies also transfer technology from CERN to industry, such as TECHTRA in Wrocław, which obtained a license from CERN for the production and commercialisation of GEM (Gas Electron Multiplier) foil. Deliveries to CERN are also carried out, inter alia, by FORMAT, Softcom or Zakład Produkcji Doświadczalnej CEBEA from Bochnia. At the most recent exhibition of Polish industry at CERN, Poland@CERN 2019, over 20 companies and institutions represented by around 60 participants took part in more than 120 networking meetings.

Poland30 Schools out

Societal impact
CERN membership has so far enabled around 550 Polish teachers to visit the lab, each returning to their schools with enhanced knowledge and enthusiasm to pass on to younger generations. Poland ranks sixth in Europe in terms of participation in particle-physics masterclasses participants, and at least 10 PhD theses in Poland based on CERN research are defended annually. Over the past 30 years, CERN has also become a second home for some 560 technical, doctoral or administrative students and 180 summer students, while Polish nationals have taken approximately 150 staff positions and 320 fellowships.

Some have taken important positions at CERN. Agnieszka Zalewska was chair of the CERN Council from 2013 to 2015, Ewa Rondio acted as a member of CERN’s directorate in 2009-2010 and Michał Turała chaired the electronics-and-computing-for-physics division in 1995-1998. Also, several of our colleagues were elected as members of CERN bodies such as the Scientific Policy Committee. Our national community at CERN is well integrated, and likes to pass the time outside working hours in particular during mountain hikes and summer picnics.

Poland’s accession to CERN membership 30 years ago was the very first case of the return of our nation to European structures, preceding the European Union and NATO. Poland joined the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in 2004, the Institut Laue-Langevin in 2006 and the European Space Agency in 2012. It was also a founding member of the European Spallation Source and the Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research,and is a partner of the European X-ray Free-Electron Laser.

Today, six research institutes and 11 university departments located in eight major Polish cities are focused on high-energy physics. Among domestic projects that have benefitted from CERN technology-transfer is the Jagiellonian PET detector, which is exploring the use of inexpensive plastic scintillators for whole-body PET imaging, and the development of electron linacs for radiotherapy and cargo scanning at the National Centre for Nuclear Research in Świerk, Warsaw.

During the past few years, thanks to closer alignment between participation in CERN experiments and the national roadmap for research infrastructures, the long-term funding scheme for Poland’s CERN membership has been stabilised. This fact, together with the highlights described here, allow us to expect that in the future CERN will be even more “Polish”.

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