"The international spirit of basic research"

Speech by the Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister of Education and Research Michael Meister (MdB) at the International ATLAS Collaboration Meeting on 7 October 2019 in Berlin.

Michael Meister, Parlamentarischer Staatssekretär bei der Bundesministerin für Bildung und Forschung, während seines Grußwortes.
Michael Meister, Parlamentarischer Staatssekretär bei der Bundesministerin für Bildung und Forschung, während seines Grußwortes. © BMBF/Hans-Joachim Rickel

Professor Gregor,
Professor Lohse,
Professor Kunst,
Professor Jakobs,

Thank you for inviting me here today.

Ladies and gentlemen, as a representative of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the BMBF, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to you at today’s ATLAS Collaboration meeting. The ATLAS detector at the LHC at CERN is a superlative piece of research equipment so powerful that it reaches the limits of what is technically possible. The research done there is on the cutting edge to finding the answers to some of the fundamental questions facing humankind.

Only if we succeed in understanding the smallest particles of matter will we be able to develop a more complete understanding of our universe in the long term.

The discovery of the Higgs Boson in 2012 – in which the ATLAS experiment played a key role – was no doubt a historic milestone along this path. At the same time, the discovery marked a historic triumph for international collaboration in science.

In particular in times of global uncertainty when populism and misinformation are running rampant, science is the voice of reason. Science brings people and nations together, making it possible to clear political, scientific and financial hurdles to jointly reach a greater goal. You can be proud of this aspect of your research, too!

CERN, the LHC and the ATLAS Collaboration stand for much more than excellence in science. In fact, they embody the international spirit of basic research. Which is also why Germany has been so committed to CERN for the past 65 years.

Ladies and gentlemen, as history has shown us over and over, new knowledge and innovations are often born of basic research. It brings long-term, invaluable benefit for society and the economy. In a sense, basic research is and will continue to be more important than ever in our efforts to provide for the future.

We cannot deny, however, that it remains a monumental challenge to unlock the last secrets which nature holds. Quite often, large facilities such as the ATLAS detector are the ones which enable scientists to do cutting-edge research in the first place, and to focus on the big issues in their field.

At the same time, such large facilities are the very drivers of technology! A wide variety of new methods and technologies are developed and tested in the course of their design, construction and operation – take, for example, the innovative methods applied in data processing and analysis or powerful detector technologies.

The potential applications of these developments beyond the realm of basic research range from effective data management all the way to radiation therapy in medicine. These applications hold a great deal of value added for the modern knowledge society, one which the Federal Research Ministry intends to support, also in the future. The aim of my ministry has been and is to secure strong basic research in Germany.

Ladies and gentlemen, the core mission of the ATLAS Collaboration will remain the exploration and investigation of fundamental issues in particle physics.

Please allow me to briefly touch upon the innovations which originated from research on the ATLAS detector – innovations which are already helping people to live better and longer lives.

The National Decade against Cancer initiative by my ministry, the BMBF, announces highest priority in the battle against this insidious disease. We aim to strengthen cancer research and innovations in the field together with our partners.

The ATLAS Collaboration has already made an important contribution in this effort, by which I mean the use of sensors made of synthetic diamonds which are used nowadays in hadron therapy. ATLAS uses these sensors in the pixel detector. Their unique properties including high radiation resistance and quick reaction times are ideal for use in radiation therapy. This is but one of many examples of the technologies and methods that are applied in other areas, for example eye research, ultrasound exploration of gases, or diagnostic imaging.

The transfer of knowledge and cutting-edge technologies from basic research to the centre of society is another of the BMBF’s priorities. The knowledge that is gained creates fertile ground for the innovations of tomorrow and beyond – and it secures the prosperity of our society for the long term.

Science bears a great responsibility to master the grand challenges of the twenty-first century – first and foremost, the fight against diseases or climate change. By no means may research work in isolation. Research must be open to collaboration, communicate in clear confident terms, and ultimately, it must benefit people.

Ladies and gentlemen, this brings me to my next point, and that is: It will take openness in communication to ensure and strengthen the support and trust of society in science over the long term.

The Internet and social media offer unparalleled opportunities to engage in dialogue for this purpose. Public lectures and other forms of publicity are ideally suited to awaken interest and dismantle possible biases.

This calls upon more than just the research institutions and organizations. Each and every researcher can make an important contribution, whether it’s a cool tweet sent from the lab, a fun science slam or giving a captivating talk. Spread the word about your research to the public! Rouse young people’s curiosity in science! The public lecture taking place during ATLAS Week is a good start to giving people an insight into the world of particle physics.

Just a few weeks ago in Bonn was the “Highlights in Physics” science festival, whose “Zeig Dich!” motto expresses the sentiment of showing who and what you are. Much like your work related to the ATLAS experiment, this year's focus was on how current physics research is making the invisible visible. The event – jointly organized by the BMBF and the German Physical Society (DPG) – fascinates tens of thousands of visitors every year with the latest physics research issues.

In addition, the BMBF provides funding for the KONTAKT pilot project, which is about communication, young researchers and public participation in knowledge about the smallest particles. Additional funding for several German universities is helping to offer appealing formats to communicate the findings of particle physics research and associated disciplines to various target groups. Web platforms are part of the initiative, for example “Weltmaschine.de” or “Netzwerk Teilchenwelt”, which focuses on promoting the MINT, or STEM subjects, to young people. Other modern formats such as virtual reality applications are also popular to raise enthusiasm for particle physics.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to conclude by quoting the British physician Michael Faraday.

When a politician once asked him, in reference to his research: “But, after all, what use is it?” Faraday replied: “Why, sir, there is every probability that you will soon be able to tax it!”.

In this spirit, I wish you a successful ATLAS Week here in Berlin. Thank you.