by Iva Raynova. Published: 31 January 2016

The group leader in matters of safety (GLIMOS) of ALICE: physicist at heart, engineer by chance.

Klaus Barth obtained his Master’s degree in physics from the University of Fridericiana Karlsruhe, Germany. Since he wanted to be independent and to earn his own living, the option to spend another five years in pursuing a doctoral degree seemed unsuitable. Instead, he started looking for a job, but the odds were not in his favour: “I sent over a hundred applications and did not receive even one invitation for an interview”.

At this point Klaus was forced to use his last resort and asked his father, a cryogenics engineer, to help him find a job in his field. That is when he moved to Oxford, UK, to work in the neutral beam heating division of a big fusion experiment, called JET Joint Undertaking. Three years later, when the project was near its end, Klaus started looking for a new job. This time, with the experience he had gained as a cryogenics engineer, he only had to send two applications. In 1997 he started working in the place with the largest cryogenics installations in the world – CERN.

For the following 16 years Klaus has been responsible for the operation and the maintenance of the cryogenic plants for the different detectors and test facilities at CERN. He was also project leader for the CERN Axion Solar Telescope (CAST) cryogenics and for the upgrade of the central liquid helium distribution service.

In 2013 he joined the ALICE collaboration as group leader in matters of safety. “I decided that the time had come for a change in my career. Physics has always been my passion and I really enjoyed studying it. Engineering was also interesting, but having done it for so many years, it was nice to make a change and to come back to my roots of a physicist. Currently I am also a shift leader. I have done the trainings that are required, which allows me not only to take care of the safety, but also to operate ALICE during the data taking period.”

There are three things Klaus is very fond of – his family, physics and sports. “While I was working in the UK, I was introduced to golf and I got addicted. It is hard to practice it when you have a family though, because it occupies a lot of time. Whole weekends, if you want to be good at it.” For a certain period of time he used to sail with a boat on the Lake Constance, which is located between Switzerland, Austria and Germany. “It was very beautiful. My physics education helped me a lot here, especially during the courses of navigation and while learning the mechanics to manoeuvre the sails.” Klaus also enjoys biking, hiking and skiing. “I am a licenced ski instructor. I train teenager groups in Germany. This way I can spend two months in a ski resort up in the mountains.”

What Klaus finds most exciting about physics is the method it applies to understanding the basic forces and what matter is made of. “Physics is a philosophy. I used to give guided tours at CERN and when the visitors asked me what physics means to me, I told them that it is just one angle to look at things. There are other angles, like philosophy and religion for example. If you look at a cube from one side, you will see a simple square. You can only see the whole picture, the whole structure, if you look from different angles.”