by Yiota Foka and Grigori Feofilov . Published: 10 November 2017

A scientific workshop on the application of ion physics to cancer therapy, space research and material science, was held on 28-30 August in Crete. A rich programme of outreach events was also included.

The participants of the workshop enjoying the sunset during the welcome drink. [Credit: Grigori Feofilov]

Motivated by the wish to enhance awareness of the benefits of fundamental research to society and to facilitate future progress, a scientific workshop and a series of public events on “Ions for cancer therapy, space research and material science” took place for the first time this summer in Chania, Greece. The workshop, held on 28-30 August and dedicated this year to cancer therapy, was preceded by a weekend of events for the general public and concluded by an open discussion. The message that was brought out is that, despite the fact that the main aim of large research institutes as CERN and GSI is fundamental research, important spin-offs have a direct impact on everyday life. In this case, medical applications, and in particular hadron-therapy, were highlighted.

Welcome notes, addressed by the rector of the Technical University of Crete (TUC) and the directors of primary and secondary education of Crete, underlined the importance of the events and the support of the local communities. They pointed out that such a sensitive topic attracts always interest but also gives a fulfilling satisfactory feeling to scientists pushing the frontiers of knowledge and setting the foundations for related developments.

The workshop provided an overview of the current state of the art and future developments in particle therapy of cancer (as explained in more details in an article that will appear on the December’s issue of the CERN Courier) and was characterized by a multidisciplinary approach, “reaching out” towards different scientific communities of diverse expertise.

The first session of the workshop, aiming at connecting the public events and the scientific discussion, featured presentations focusing on benefits for society, giving emphasis on transfer of knowledge via educational projects but also via enterprises.

The historical background was reviewed, starting with pioneering research at GSI; an overview of the ongoing activities involving CERN followed. A report on attempts to support such projects in the Mediterranean area via the HERMES network outlined the many different issues to be tackled.

An overview of the current status of innovations and their implementation in therapy centres was followed by detailed presentations on the state-of-the-art existing facilities and future projects. A lot has been achieved, but there are still many challenges ahead which require strong cooperation and synergies.

The discussions extended on related applications for space research and dosimetry. Specific developments of detectors, routinely used for physics research, were described and they were complemented by presentations of research activities at TUC related to “science for health”. The benefits of strong cooperation and best use of expertise and resources were also repeatedly brought up during the reports of the future BIOMAT projects planned at GSI/FAIR and JINR for biophysics and material research.

A specific session was dedicated to developments of accelerators for medical and industry purposes (as detailed in an article published in Accelerating News), including a report by the TERA foundation and ADAM SA, from where it emerged the clear need for a multi-ion research facility in parallel with new compact single-ion accelerators for treatment.

Other topics were also briefly discussed, such as practical issues spanning from availability of beam time at different facilities to more effectively sharing results. Overall, the workshop facilitated the sharing of information and strengthened cooperation on relevant activities between large research institutions, with valuable input from existing therapy centres and proposals for future projects.

With the wish to bring in closer contact local universities with international organizations planning new facilities, a special session was hosted at TUC. The presentations and visits at the laboratories gave the opportunity to participants to appreciate the high quality of equipment and research, as well as the enthusiasm and creativity of the students and staff. Such exchanges may facilitate the enhancement of collaborations such as the one developed around the Medipix project.

The need of properly trained personnel, an equally important topic of concern for future progress, was also addressed and special emphasis was given to communication to educators and students at all levels. The workshop and all public events were open to all interested students and teachers from Crete, with the purpose to make them aware of new developing projects, career orientation and specializations, as well as new job opportunities.

The Curiosity team and the organizers of the social events held on Saturday 26th. [Credit: Grigori Feofilov]

The tight scientific programme was paralleled by numerous social events highlighting the culture of the area. Participants were delighted by the warm hospitality of the local communities which did their best to offer a very good experience and, being sensitive to the subject of the workshop, contributed voluntarily in several occasions. It was the case, for example, of the performance of the Byzantinian choir and a traditional dancing group. Particularly remarkable was the support of Hotel AKALI that offered a real-life experience of the famous Greek hospitality.

The workshop was possible thanks to the guidance of the International Advisory Committee and dedicated work of the Organising Committee, chaired by Yiota Foka. Special thanks go to the extraordinarily motivated core-team of young members that worked remotely on all details of the workshop organization from different parts of the world, spanning from Poland, Spain and Russia to CERN, GSI and Greece. Their valuable assistance and effective cooperation, together with the assistance from the local universities, ensured the smooth running of the workshop, which was acknowledged by many enthusiastic comments. The participants, some 50 people, were mostly experts of different disciplines individually invited. They appreciated the format of the workshop and are eager to keep the discussion alive, recognizing that synergies and cooperation among scientific communities of different expertise can boost future advances. 

Outreach and social events 

A particular feature of the workshop “Ions for cancer therapy, space research and material science” was that the scientific programme was complemented by numerous science events with the aim to highlight the benefits for society out of fundamental research. They were hosted in traditional picturesque venues in the heart of the old harbour of Chania and they addressed public in many different ways, giving special emphasis to communication to teachers and students at all levels. These events were very well received and greatly supported by the rector of the Technical University of Crete and the directors of primary and secondary education of Crete through their professional channels.


The traditional Neorio Moro building of Sailing Club coffee-shop hosted the Science Fair on Saturday morning. [Credit: Grigori Feofilov]

On Saturday morning, a broad programme of science activities was hosted in the welcoming venue of the Sailing Club Neorio Moro, inviting every passer-by to cross its large doors. Next to the CERN exhibition “27 km in 27 pictures”, paintings of primary school students inspired by science were displayed. Material provided by CERN and GSI, including cartoons, coloring books, puzzles, projections and simple physics experiments, was offered with the aim of awakening interest in science through games and art.

Children, but also their parents, were mostly attracted by the basic physics experiments presented and explained by the local school-children team “Curiosity”, which actively spread their enthusiasm for physics. Members of outreach communities, including Marge Bardeen of Fermilab and some ALICE colleagues, provided collections of “do-it-in-your-garage” experiments.

Participants had as well the possibility to become acquainted with analysis of real data through demonstrations of the ATLAS HYPATHIA and ALICE Masterclasses. Teachers and pupils were explained how to join and share the experiences of about 15000 school-children participating every year worldwide to the International MasterClasses, the flagship project developed within the International Particle Physics Outreach Group (IPOGG).

Margaret Janik demonstrating the ALICE Masterclass to pupils and their teachers. [Credit: Grigori Feofilov]

On Sunday, the public event, hosted in the comfortable amphitheater of the Great Arsenal, kept the interest of a diverse audience triggering discussions till almost midnight. The whole scenario was drafted with the aim to highlight the use of ions for cancer therapy as an example of important spin-offs of fundamental research having direct impact on society. It combined presentations with film projections, videoconference connections with CERN, as well as musical interpretations by soprano Kalliopi Petrou.

As appetizers, short videos on CERN, ALICE and other topics were projected while the audience was arriving. The general presentation on accelerators and detectors was given by Prof. Tasos Liolios, from Thessaloniki, and was followed by a virtual visit in the ALICE control room from where Despina Hatzifotiadou, the ALICE outreach coordinator, explained the basics on heavy-ion research. Complemented by a short movie showing the details of the ALICE experiment, it impressed the audience.

Then, Prof. Christina Kourkoumeli, from Athens, underlined that, while centres like CERN and GSI are focusing on fundamental research, there are specific efforts to contribute to the education of the next generations of scientists, at all levels. She outlined the different projects targeting students and teachers and a wealth of activities in Greece as well as opportunities for education and future careers.

As a real-life example, the school-children team “Curiosity”, lead by the physics teacher Astrinos Tsoutsoudakis from the “Dominikos Theotokopoulos” Lyceum of Crete, presented their proposal to the CERN’s project “Beamtime for schools”, in which they were shortlisted. They impressed with their creativity and dedication and made it clear to the locals that such activities are not a distant dream but can become reality in an affordable and enjoyable way.

Coming on the main theme, Manjit Dosanjh of CERN touched the sensitive topic of cancer therapy and explained the basic principles of the use of protons and ions in this front. Starting with a historical overview from the pioneering efforts in Berkley and GSI, she guided the audience - also with the help short videos and animations – through the state-of-the art therapy centres as well as future developments and projects. Georgios Dedes, from Munich, continued with further details, which naturally lead to a vivid discussion with the public. The event closed with the soprano’s vibrant voice that touched the heart and soul of all present and accompanied the thoughts to the ones lost and the hope of the ones fighting cancer.

While the Sunday event focused mostly on the technical developments targeting cancer therapy, such as the use of accelerators and imaging techniques, a further step was taken on Wednesday, after the end of the scientific talks of the workshop. The public was invited for a “coffee with scientists” in the coffee shop hosted by the Sailing Club, where the oncologists Prof. Makrygiannakis from the University of Crete and Prof. Costas Balas of the Technical University of Crete,focused on women’s health and made the public aware of innovative diagnostic methods developed and patented in Crete. 

These events had a big impact and set the seed for continuation, a wish explicitly expressed by the local authorities.