by Bruce Becker. Published: 08 July 2011

The South African minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, visited CERN on 22 June. The minister was accompanied by a delegation from her department and the South African mission to Switzerland.

This event is the latest in a series of official visits of the South African government to CERN, in order to support the South African participation in CERN, as well as to investigate methods of knowledge transfer and other forms of cooperation.

Bruce Becker

The South African Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, shares a lighthearted exchange with ALICE members Paolo Giubellino and Latchezar Betev, joined by John Ellis.

The official participation of South Africa in the LHC experiments started with the addition of the UCT-CERN Research Centre in Cape Town to the ALICE experiment in 2004, which has responsibility for the development of the certain components of the ALICE dimuon spectrometer High-Level Trigger.

South Africa has a long history with nuclear physics: including experimental nuclear physics at the iThemba Laboratory for Accelerator Based Science, as well as participation in the north area experiments at the CERN Super Proton Synchrotron. The wide collaboration with CERN - including ALICE, ATLAS and ISOLDE, as well as various collaborations between individual theoretical physicists - has driven the formation of a national group, the South Africa-CERN Consortium, which is funded by the South African Department of Science and Technology, and was one of the main reasons for the ministerial visit.

The participation in ATLAS of two groups of South African physicists – from the Universities of Johannesburg and the Witwatersrand, respectively - was made official by a unanimous vote from the collaboration board recently. The two groups are working on physics analysis, as well as providing computing resources to the experiment via the South African National Grid.

Computing – both off and online – is at the core of the South African contribution to ALICE. In fact, the development of the national computer grid in South Africa was undertaken following several years' experience of participation with ALICE’s offline computing activities. With strong support from CERN, and our colleagues at the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare, this has resulted in a national infrastructure for computing, which is used by many different experiments and for a wide array of scientific applications.

The large-scale computing experience gained by working on ALICE also formed a focal point of discussion with the minister and her team, in view of a proposal to host the Square Kilometre Array in Southern Africa, which will produce data at a rate which dwarves that of the LHC experiments.

The presentation and discussion session was followed by a tour of three CERN facilities: the ALICE and ATLAS control rooms; and the LHC magnet assembly point. The visit certainly strengthened the ties between South Africa and CERN, with a hint that South Africa might consider application for associate member status.

Amongst those also present at the meeting were Paolo Giubellino, the ALICE spokesperson; Peter Jenni, the former spokesperson of ATLAS; John Ellis, one of the CERN advisors for non-member states1; Jean Cleymans, the head of the South Africa-CERN consortium; and Bruce Becker, the coordinator of the South African National Grid.

  • 1. Including Africa, Ireland, Japan, the Middle East and North America.