The importance of Large Research Infrastructures
One of the core differences between ancient and modern science is the authorship of the discoveries. While in the past, for example during the time of Galileo, a motivated individual with a telescope could change the way we perceive the world, nowadays, research in fundamental Physics progresses through international collaborations that design and operate highly sophisticated, usually public funded, Large Research Infrastructures.
This characteristic derives from a need inherent to the very nature of the experiments in question: besides the high sophistication of the experimental equipment required to increase the discovery potential of a frontier Physics experiment, the size of the experiment is of paramount importance. As the scale and sophistication of an experiment increases, the need of collaboration becomes of utmost importance for the pursuit of scientific knowledge.
The outcome of these cutting-edge experiments, carried out by scientific collaborations in large research infrastructures, are giant data sets, whose volume, complexity and throughput raise serious scientific challenges. Scientific discovery depends critically on being able to cope with this data and to mine it.
A prime example of this collaborative environment is the field of Gravitational Wave physics; it is an international enterprise by necessity. All three gravitational-wave antennas, two in the United States and Virgo in Europe — to be joined by KAGRA in Japan, in 2020, and LIGO-India, in 2025 — are necessary to localise the GW sources and properly characterise them, while detections are followed-up and observed by a large network of electromagnetic observatories situated across the world. Indeed, the scientists of the European and US collaborations have operated as a single collaboration since long before the arrival of the first discoveries. The domain provides a strong message on worldwide collaboration in science, running from the regional level, the environment of the observatory, to the global level.
These International Scientific Laboratories bring together people from all over the world, sometimes from countries that are in conflict. These people work together peacefully, animated by the same passion for knowledge in pursuit of common goals. Fundamental research has the potential to bridge gap between cultures, break down barriers and nurture the young generation in a respectful and tolerant environment that values diversity and inclusiveness. At the same time, these international laboratories are grappling with the challenges of their data avalanches, so there has never been a better time to seek citizen volunteer contributions to participate directly in scientific discovery and the international inclusive environment it engenders.