ATLAS Collaboration enters active “Safe Mode”

2nd April 2020 | By

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View of an empty CERN corridor, as activities on-site are limited during the global health crisis. (Image: S. Hertzog/CERN)

The global health crisis caused by COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of life. Much of the world’s population are sheltering in place, with ATLAS Collaboration members similarly affected.

CERN is currently operating in “safe mode”, a status similar to the Organization’s regular year-end shutdown. This means that baseline services – such as cooling, electrical and safety systems – are still running, keeping the delicate high-end technology instruments safe and the site ready for a relatively quick restart once operations can resume. A small, select number of ATLAS members – physicists, engineers and technicians – have been tasked to monitor the experiment at CERN during this phase.

What is life like for those members? Fortunately, with access to the site extremely restricted, social distancing is an easy task. Their work is limited to only essential operations, reducing their time on site to the bare minimum. Additionally, CERN is providing on-site personnel with free-of-charge daily meals to further reduce interactions between staff.

The majority of ATLAS members, however, have taken to telework. As a global collaboration with members spread across continents, the use of video-conferencing systems was already part of the daily routine. But now the casual coffee chats that would follow online meetings are a relic of a different time, as physicists attempt to balance analysis discussions alongside personal and family responsibilities.

As productivity under these conditions can be difficult, ATLAS members are sharing their experiences on social media with the hashtag #PhysicistsatHome. Giving tours of the home offices and introducing their animal companions, these small bouts of personal connection can provide great relief. The strength and comradery of the ATLAS Collaboration under these circumstances has been truly inspiring.

As the world weathers this critical phase of the crisis, ATLAS management is looking ahead to incorporate social-distancing measures in future activities. New strategies are under development to best ensure a safe and efficient workplace once CERN reopens. Further, the upcoming ATLAS Week meeting of the collaboration – scheduled to take place in Vancouver, Canada, in May – has been changed to be a virtual-only event. Similarly, the LHC Physics conference – also scheduled for May in Paris, France – is now anticipated to be a virtual-only event. Both Vancouver and Paris will host the 2021 editions of these meetings.

While we attempt to look ahead, the thoughts of ATLAS members continue to be with the thousands of sick and hospitalised around the world, as well as with the medical professionals and essential service workers providing crucial support during this crisis.

Are you teaching from home? Looking for additional educational activities? From Minecraft to colouring books to open data, check out the wide range of ATLAS educational material available for all ages.