by Virginia Greco. Published: 11 May 2018

Cameras and other dedicated equipment have been installed in the ALICE Run Control Centre to allow remote visitors to be guided in a virtual tour of the control room and of the experimental cavern.

Despina Hatzifotiadou hosting a virtual visit with a Greek high school [Credits: Virginia Greco/CERN]

 

Visiting the underground facilities of the LHC experiments and peeking into their control rooms while the crew is watching over the data taking is always an exciting experience for people coming to CERN and, in particular, for high school pupils. Access to the experimental caverns, though, is allowed only when the accelerator is switched off. In addition, not everybody can afford a travel to CERN.

Thus, in order to make the ALICE site more ‘accessible’ to external people, two cameras and a console have been installed in the ALICE Run Control Centre (ARC) to allow ‘virtual visits’. The participants will be remotely connected via Vidyo or point-to-point-connection with the host, who will sit in the ARC and guide the visit. One of the cameras is set in front of the guide seat, while the other is on one corner of the room and can be piloted to focus on different operator workstations, on the Run Coordinator or on the monitors showing the status of the accelerator and of the experiment. In addition, the output from various cameras previously installed underground is fed into a monitor. The host can see the images from the various sources on three displays and decide what to show to the audience at each moment: her or himself, the various stations in the control room, live images of the detector or any other visual material (slides, photos, videos). Everything is easily controlled by means of a tablet.

With the help of these tools, it is possible not only to explain what the objectives of the experiment are, but also show real time images of the detector and make the participants perceive the atmosphere in the control room during operation and data taking, even though they are sitting in their institute.

Virtual visits were already occasionally organized in ALICE, but the guides had to connect with their own laptop and use its webcam to show the control room. After setting up a temporary system for Researchers’ Night of 2016, the Collaboration decided to buy some fixed equipment, which was installed at the beginning of this year – thanks to the active involvement of Roberto Divià. 

In April, the brand-new virtual visit console was successfully tested on two occasions. On the first, Spokesperson Federico Antinori and Grigory Feofilov, head of the Ultra-High Energy Physics laboratory of the University of Saint Petersburg (SPbU), connected with members of Feofilov’s institute, where a celebration of 25 years of collaboration with ALICE was ongoing. The second one was included in a Masterclass event for high school students, organized in Zakynthos, Greece. Despina Hatzifotiadou, the ALICE outreach coordinator, welcomed the participants from the ARC, “showed them around” and answered many questions.

In both cases the feedback was positive and the interactivity much appreciated. The plan for the future is to use the system any time there is a request and the availability of a guide. For inquiries and to organize a virtual visit, requestors can write to alice-outreach-virtual-visits@cern.ch.

Students at the University of Saint Petersburg participating in a virtual visit led by Grigory Feofilov and Federico Antinori.