How coronavirus closes laboratories around the world

US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — Modern science is international science. In a pandemic, the best minds of the planet faced a unique challenge and were forced to solve a whole range of atypical tasks. About unscientific, but very urgent problems of scientists.

Research centers in most countries have now imposed stringent restrictions, minimizing active staff. Almost all the leading universities in the world have switched to the remote work mode.

The scientific community is adapting several times more actively than usual, using means of remote communication and access that have long been familiar. Most current working issues, scientists say, are resolved online without much inconvenience.

However, the lack of lively communication with colleagues, especially the mass cancellation of conferences – both on the mental spirit and on the speed of work, greatly affects. Scientists acknowledge that the pandemic has led the community to some degree of numbness, but most, of course, are optimistic, fully aware of the seriousness of the problem.

“Organizing the work of my laboratories in a remote format, I was faced with the fact that it is not easy for individual colleagues – for example, it is difficult for some to work outside the team. There are many details that need to be worked out, but I think that we are ready, mentally and technically, now hold in this mode for up to six months,” said Igor Abrikosov, professor of NUST MISiS and Linkoping University.

Mastering the new conditions, scientists, as they can, compensate for the inconvenience of isolation. In European scientific centers, for example, special rooms are created for remote meetings, where you can communicate informally with colleagues over a cup of coffee via the Internet – like classic coffee breaks, which now will be gone for a long time.

CERN on pause

Serious measures of social distance at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) were taken even before the announcement of quarantine in Switzerland and France, on the border between which it is located. Clubs, circles and public spaces were closed, the corporate car sharing system was blocked – the staff moved to bicycles.

The vast majority of scientists worked with CERN remotely before the pandemic, so quarantine did not lead to a complete stoppage of work. The center continues to provide employees around the world with uninterrupted access to both petabytes of experimental data and programs for their analysis.

All projects where the direct presence of people is required are currently frozen. Scientists note that the most severe restrictions affected the work with “iron”, that is, on the design, assembly and improvement of detectors.

Now on the territory of CERN there remains only a small number of specialists who ensure the viability of the basic installations and services, while most employees had to return to their countries. Some scientists – for example, some Chinese citizens – have decided not to return home for now, settling in the vicinity of the Center.

“The TRT detector I’m working on has been put into sleep mode. We only work with a test bench remotely controlled so far. But in case of emergency, I, as an emergency expert of the detector, will be able to cross the border now closed with special permission to accept measures personally, ”said Daniil Ponomarenko, a graduate student at NRNU MEPhI and a CERN employee.

The next experiment at the Large Hadron Collider – the so-called Run 3 – was scheduled for next spring, but scientists have little doubt that it will be postponed. Most likely, new data on particle collisions will come not by the year 2021-22, but somewhat later.

According to scientists, at the moment the pandemic has already made an approximately six-month delay in the Center’s plans. Scientists hope that the restrictions will last no longer than a couple of months, but their exact date is not yet known to anyone.

We will adapt

In many countries, the virus is already leading to a halt in science-important industries. Quarantine in China caused significant problems with the supply of electronics, which led to the transition to sleep mode of several research and production centers in Europe, indirectly hitting MegaScience as a whole.

Although CERN, which is the largest laboratory in the world, has practically froze the work, many other large-scale scientific and technical projects — for example, the construction of the SKIF synchrotron in Novosibirsk — are on schedule as a whole, according to experts.

Moreover, some research centers were well adapted to work under quarantine conditions. Automation of processes allows you to operate with a minimum of personnel – as, for example, in Hamburg, at the DESY synchrotron and the XFEL European X-ray laser, built with the participation of Russia.

“The other day, we had the first experience of conducting a completely remote experiment – an excellent, productive experience. While in Grenoble, I, together with my colleagues from Kaliningrad, directly controlled the work at the synchrotron in Hamburg,” said the head of the laboratory of X-ray optics and physical materials science at Baltiysky Federal University, Professor Anatoly Snegirev.

Scientists believe that if the virus is not defeated quickly, and quarantine measures are extended beyond six months, there will be a huge demand for technologies that can compensate for difficulties in communication and in the work of laboratories. According to some scientists, it is possible to significantly accelerate the development of robotics, high-quality communications, holographic visualization methods.

Representatives of fundamental science agree that the problems brought about by a pandemic should be evaluated as an opportunity to take a fresh look – with concentration and without the excitement inherent in science today – on the whole complex of theoretical and applied problems of our time.


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The article is written and prepared by our foreign editors from different countries around the world – material edited and published by Ordo News staff in our US newsroom press.