by Panos Charitos. Published: 28 May 2015

Last week a group from the University of Malta’s Department of Computer Science visited CERN to initiate a collaboration with ALICE. The collaboration will mainly focus on the large-scale computing challenges arising from the ALICE O2 project. During their visit they were guided by Despina Hatzifotiadou to the ALICE Exhibition at P2 where they had the chance to see the sophisticated technologies developed for most of the ALICE detectors, while Roberto Divia guided them to the new ALICE Run Control Centre and explained to them the complexity of the many systems that are used for recording and analysing data from the experiment.

The University of Malta traces its origins to the founding of the Collegium Melitense in 1592. It is the highest teaching institution in Malta, with some 11,500 students including over 750 international students from 82 different countries. The Department of Computer Science was established in 1993, and produces around 30 graduates per annum that are easily absorbed by the Maltese ICT job market, which features industries such as financial services and game development. Notwithstanding the positive employment prospects, a number of graduates proceed to undertake postgraduate studies and pursue research in computer science. 

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The delegation consisted of Kevin Vella and Keith Bugeja, lecturers in the field of concurrent software, and Kevin Napoli, a postgraduate student who intends to work on a project related to this budding collaboration. They were also accompanied by Gianluca Valentino, presently a fellow at CERN working on the LHC collimation system in the beams department and an affiliate lecturer at the University of Malta.

Members of the department have previously collaborated with ATLAS (1999-2002) to characterise Gigabit Ethernet switches for the second level trigger. Together with the university’s IT Services department they were also involved in setting up and operating a pilot grid infrastructure in the Mediterranean region as partners in the EUMEDGRID project (2006-2009). They are now looking forward to taking advantage of the expertise they gained through their past involvement in such initiatives.

The ALICE O2 project offers a unique opportunity to take this collaboration to the next level, and being member of a large collaboration like ALICE is an important step forward for the department. Keith Bugeja explains: “We are really looking forward to this collaboration and how both sides can make the most out of it; we are also looking to recruit postgraduate students to work on aspects of data acquisition and concurrent computing that are part of the ALICE O2 project”.

The challenges of the project are mainly related to the development of infrastructure that can handle the large amounts of data the LHC will produce after LS2. From a computer scientist’s perspective these challenges lie in large scale concurrent and distributed computing, which are hot academic topics at a global level. The resulting computing infrastructure will support the world-leading fundamental research being carried out at CERN: “working with a number of different scientists and being members of such a large collaboration adds a different dimension to the challenge and makes for a very interesting and stimulating package,” says Kevin Vella.

Discussions between the University of Malta and ALICE kicked off in the fall of 2014. Following a year of intensive discussions they are now close to achieving associate membership of ALICE, with collaborations being initiated in computer science as well as microelectronics. The next concrete step is for their students to commence working within ALICE. During this visit they had the chance to discuss and identify project opportunities within ALICE for University of Malta students. As Kevin Napoli explained: “I am mainly interested in applying concurrent techniques to solve complex problems and will strive to achieve the most optimized solution that will fit ALICE’s needs”.