CERN comes to VR Sci Fest

April 19, 2017

Interview with Isabel Bejar Alonso - Advisor Director General at CERN

Interview with Isabel Bejar Alonso – HL-LHC Configuration, Quality and resources officer at CERN.
Isabel Bejar is engaged in the science of the very small – the search for fundamental particles. And she’s part of a very big team. As an employee of CERN’s (the European Organisation for Nuclear Research), she’s one of the 2500 staff it takes to build, run, and maintain a facility used by half of the world’s particle physicists.


Can you tell us more what are you doing?

My background is a physicist, and I have an MBA, and I had been dealing with all kinds of technical projects last 20 years here at CERN.

Why have you started to work with VR?

I have kids and I learn a lot from their way to learn: they interact a lot. When we were children, we loved to spend time in front of the television and passively watched it. But new generation – they love to be part of the action, they love to collaborate and interact. We have made the decision to start a project where people with different backgrounds, and ages, can come in and interact.
That was the first reason why I have begun to work on VR application.
The second reason was the discussion with a colleague working in mechanical engineering (Diego Perini ) we discussed that it would be great to visualize complex and difficult of approach things in a way that everybody can see and understand it. And he said that he knows people from Finland from Lapland University of Applied Sciences and they are doing this kind of projects. Then we have started to discuss this idea in our working group, and it was an explosion of ideas. Ignacio Zurbano from the integration team worked intensively with our Lapland colleagues to make possible Hilumi3D.

We know that you will bring two projects to VR Scientific Festival. Can you tell us more about them?

The first project concerns the visualization of the upgrade of the LHC machine, what we call HL-LHC. We are going to create and modify more than 2 km of tunnels and galleries to host the new equipment needed to increase the LHC luminosity by a factor ten. From one side we wanted to provide to all our direct collaborations (more than 60 and 20 countries) and easy way to visualize where and how was going to be installed their contributions. From the other, we wanted to show the public the low impact of the new installation in the landscape. The people who live nearby do not want to lose the beautiful view they have from the Montblanc mountain!. VR is more than just a visualization tool. It allows us to interact with the different components of the machine and make different teams discuss with a common vision. It creates also the feeling of being part of a bigger endeavor. Your component is not alone but it is surrounded by the contribution of others and you see better what happens when you change your design. It also empowers sharing your enthusiasm. You do not show simply a video you let the others play with what you have done. You can reach with the same tools a larger spectrum of persons, from the scientist to the industry to your neighbors that want to know and learn more about what you are doing.

The second project we will present is Atlas rift project. ATLAS rift is a Virtual Reality application that provides an interactive, immersive visit to the ATLAS experiment. Using it, one can learn about the experiment as a whole, inspect individual sub-detectors, view real interactions, or take a scripted walkthrough explaining questions physicists are trying to answer.
We envision it being used in two different ways: as an educational and outreach tool – for schools, universities, museums, and interested individuals as an event viewer for ATLAS physicists – for them, it will provide a much better spatial awareness of an event, track and jet directions, occupancies and interactions with detector structures.
As you can see we really believe in VR!

Did you meet any skepticism or resistance to VR technology in you academic environment?

If I meet a skeptical scientist, I always invite him or her to drink coffee, and in an odd moment, I offer to try VR and then we can discuss it in the more open and informal environment, and it always work. I know that in Sweden people also like to drink coffee, so, you should have very high level of technology integration into society (laughing).

The motto of VR Scientific Festival is ‘to see unseen.’  Do you use or plan to use VR for cases where our eyes are not able to see, and only our imagination and scientific information can produce the visualization?

On this stage, we try to be practical and use VR to help to understand what we are doing now, to increase awareness and quality of information. We are doing it for internal purposes to inform people at CERN about ongoing projects and to present these projects out of CERN as well.


How will academical landscape change in the nearby future?

The Collaboration in a broader way: to collaborate across the same field internationally, to understand how other academics solve the same problems.  To collaborate across the disciplines, to see which tools use academics in other disciplines.
To collaborate more with industry and society, to understand their needs better.
Science needs to be more interactive.