Prof. Victor A. Matveev, Director of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, Dubna, Russia (JINR)

The Universe Sees No Borders

Research on the deep structure of nuclear matter, the properties of fundamental interactions in the micro world, the origin of the Universe and the laws of its evolution, calls for global cooperation among scientists. The JINR is at the forefront of these efforts, which are jointly researched at the leading global institutions. Serbia, as an Associated Member State of the JINR network, has its own role in these advancements

For decades, the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR) has been at the forefront of top-notch research into what we colloquially refer to as “the origin of the Universe”. The previous year was one of the most successful in the modern history of the JINR, and the new projects the Institute is currently working on a promise to contribute greatly to ongoing research in the area of particle physics. For us in Serbia, these developments are of paramount interest, as our country – as an Associated Member State of the JINR – has been cooperating for years with the JINR, with the possibility to join as a fully-fledged Member State. We had an excellent opportunity to speak with Prof. Victor A. Matveev, Director of the JINR, about the work of one of the world’s most advanced scientific institutions, and about their current research.

Prof. Matveev, how globalised is science when it comes to the areas in which you work? What is the role of the JINR within the world’s scientific community? How many researchers and other experts are engaged in different lines of activity? The scientific programme of the JINR includes studies of the problems of fundamental physics at the very edge of its forefront – the deep structure of nuclear matter, the properties of fundamental interactions in the micro world, the origin of the Universe and the laws of its evolution, as well as the interconnection of phenomena in the micro and macro worlds.

Nowadays we call this area of fundamental research simply particle physics, adding to it cosmology. Physicists used to say that particle physics is global. Why? Because the unique complexity of the problems and goals of particle physics requires new results and discoveries with the utmost concentration of all existing intellectual and technological potentials and, hence, of the corresponding human and material resources, at the level that has no analogy in other fields.

Victor A. Matveev JINR

One of the major principles of the JINR scientific policy is that its scientific programme and priority projects must first of all be integrated into the European and world scientific programmes. The priority projects of research infrastructure development that are now under realisation at the JINR, according to its Seven-Year Development Plan, between 2017 and 2023, include such mega-science projects as the NICA superconducting heavy ion collider and the factory of superheavy elements, which are included in the landscape of the European Strategy for Particle and Nuclear Physics.

The realisation of a mega-science class project is practically impossible without broad international cooperation, allowing a concentration of the required human and financial resources, and the development and application of new technologies. This is one of the main goals of international scientific organisations like the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), in Geneva, Switzerland, and the JINR.

The JINR officially consists of 18 Member States and six the Associated Member States, including Serbia. But to give you a picture of our international cooperation, I should mention that today our partner network consists of about 800 research institutes, universities and other organisations in more than 60 countries, and that about 150 of them are located in the European Union. JINR’s total number of staff is about 5,300. Among them, 1,200 are researchers, mostly from the Member States, but also from 33 other states, working in our international teams. This number grows together with our projects.

You’ve stated that 2019 was one of the most successful years in JINR’s modern history. What achievements would you like to highlight?

Last year was the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements. We participated actively in this international event because the JINR has contributed a lot to the modern look of this table. In fact, we started a new branch of science – chemistry of superheavy elements. In order to continue this research at the highest world level, at the beginning of last year, we commissioned a new cyclotron, DC-280, which is the key machine within the unique research complex named the Superheavy Element (SHE) Factory. Furthermore, at the end of 2019, we officially started the commissioning of a new accelerator ring within the NICA accelerator complex. Also, an off-line high-performance computer cluster for the NICA experiments was made operational in September last year.

Also last year, at Lake Baikal, we doubled the speed of construction of the largest neutrino telescope in the Northern Hemisphere.

Big experiments like NICA and the LHC are serious challenges to the present technological level. As such, these projects foster global technological development significantly

We deployed two new clusters of the Baikal- GVD deep underwater neutrino telescope, thus increasing its effective volume to a quarter of a cubic kilometre.

In addition, in 2019 the JINR also launched the Distinguished Postdoctoral Research Fellowship Programme, aimed at recruiting excellent young researchers for its main research directions and flagship projects.

All this does not yet give a full picture of our achievements in 2019. Let me also mention the significant developments of our international cooperation as well, including the signing of the Roadmap of Cooperation of Serbia and the JINR.

The NICA project is the JINR’s largest undertaking to date. Could you tell us a little more about this project’s contribution to the overall body of research in particle physics?

Generally speaking, we are curious about how the Universe originated and how it has been evolving. Many different research disciplines contribute to explorations of these questions.

Thus, there are a number of running and planned experiments devoted to studies of the properties of hot and dense matter, the so-called fireball, created in high energy heavy-ion collisions, including the phase transition between the matter composed of quarks and gluons, called the quark-gluon plasma, and ordinary matter, composed of protons, neutrons, mesons and other particles. The experiments at very high energies at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), in Brookhaven, USA, and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), in CERN, were devoted to studying hot matter at practically zero net baryon density. Their results showed that the phase transition between the quark gluon-plasma and ordinary matter was rather smooth, in agreement with the lattice quantum chromodynamics calculations.

Victor A. Matveev JINR

Unfortunately, with decreasing energy and increasing net baryon density, the theoretical calculations become quite uncertain, though indicating the possibility of a sharp phase transition, starting at certain values of the net baryon density and temperature, called the critical point, characterised by large fluctuations in matter properties. The main goal of the NICA project is to search for the signatures of such a phase transition, named the first order transition, and the critical point in the energy region with the maximal possible net baryon density achievable in a laboratory being comparable to the baryon density in the core of a neutron star. Another goal of the project is to study the long-standing question of proton and neutron spin structures, determined by the properties of the quarks and gluons of which they are composed.

You dubbed one of your popular programmes as “NICA – the Universe in the laboratory”. How well do we know our Universe today? And how can NICA teach us, ordinary lay citizens, about the world in which we live?

The recent progress of knowledge about the Universe is impressive. Scientists are able to study very distant objects and processes. However, there is still a big space of ambiguities, and future discoveries will definitely help us to clarify them. The word “Universe” typically means all existing space and matter, while modern science also includes all energy, time and the fundamental forces. The JINR can definitely contribute to finding answers to some of these important questions.

In giant planets and stars, and during supernovae explosions and collisions of neutron stars, the matter is subject to extreme conditions, such as very high temperatures, pressures and densities. NICA will enable scientists to create such conditions in the laboratory. To do so, they will let accelerated heavy ions collide. These collisions will, for very short periods of time, create cosmic matter at tiny impact points.

Scientists from all over the world are planning to use the NICA superconducting heavy ion collider complex to find out how matter behaves at huge densities

In other words, we have a kind of microscope for viewing, for example, the processes inside neutron stars even at much higher temperatures. Scientists from all over the world are planning to use the NICA complex to find out how matter behaves at such huge densities. Participation in such experiments is interesting not only to scientists. Big experiments like NICA and the LHC are, of course, serious challenges to the present technological level. In other words, such projects foster global technological development significantly.

What differentiates the NICA and LHC projects, and how do they complement one another?

With these unique scientific infrastructures, scientists from all over the world will be able to gain new insights into the structure of matter and the evolution of the Universe, from its origin to the present time.

NICA will operate at energies up to 11 GeV in the nucleon-nucleon centre-of-mass system, while LHC uses energies of colliding particles three orders of magnitude higher. As a result, NICA will be able to generate nuclear matter with a lower temperature than the LHC, but with the maximal possible net baryon density. The tasks of the two infrastructures are to explore the phase diagram of nuclear matter in two different but complementary domains. At the same time, the development of modern accelerator and unique detector technologies, which are necessary for carrying out these tasks, has been going on in close cooperation between JINR and CERN scientists and engineers.

Another priority project of the current JINR Seven-Year Development Plan is the deep underwater neutrino telescope at Lake Baikal. What is neutrino astronomy?

Neutrino astronomy is a branch of astronomy devoted to the observation of celestial bodies using neutrino telescopes. The detectors in question are typically very large. The gigantic detector we are constructing at Lake Baikal will have the volume of one cubic kilometre. A similar-sized detector already exists in the ice at the South Pole. There are similar telescopes under construction in the Mediterranean Sea.

We usually think of astronomy as being about observations by means of a naked eye or an optical telescope, via registering light, i.e. photons. But other particles can also be messengers from the Universe. The difficulty is that characteristics of photons and other particles reaching us from far away can be greatly disturbed along their paths by matter and various fields that exist in the Universe.

Victor A. Matveev JINR

They often change their original direction, lose their energy and even get absorbed during travel through space. All this makes astronomy with these particles less direct and requires very complicated techniques to analyse the observations.

Neutrinos are unique because of the weakness of their interactions. They can easily propagate through the entire Universe without being disturbed. Thus, neutrinos can provide a great new tool for investigations of the Universe and violent processes occurring there. This explains why the observation of astronomical objects using neutrino telescopes, known as neutrino astronomy, has become a quickly developing field. The JINR will definitely begin to play a significant role in this field in the near future.

The NICA and Lake Baikal projects are true multinational projects, which include the participation of many respectable researchers from numerous countries. How is this research coordinated, and what have the participating countries contributed? 

Both projects are realised at the JINR, which represents a big international network based primarily on the resources of the Member States and the Associated Member States, and also on wide international expertise provided by several committees operating at different levels. About half of the NICA project’s costs are covered by Russia within the programme of international mega-science projects on its territory. The other half of the costs are covered from the JINR budget and the special contributions of our partners. Such a contribution has come from Germany, which participated in the development, production and testing of the facility for fast cycling Dubna-type superconducting magnets employed within both the NICA complex and the Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research (FAIR), in Darmstadt, Germany.

Additionally, a few large international collaborations are sharing responsibility for the fabrication of various parts of the main NICA detectors. Besides the numerous institutions from the JINR Member and the Associated Member States, these collaborations include institutions from Chile, China, Israel, Mexico and the USA. For instance, a consortium of Chinese universities is responsible for the production of 75% of 43,000 modules of the electromagnetic calorimeter of one of the main NICA detectors. The project also benefits from close cooperation with CERN, in particular from the new technological solutions developed for the LHC experiments, like the Monolithic Active Pixel Sensors for Inner Tracker System and the fast electronics for the Time Projection Chamber. It is worth mentioning that the project is included in the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) Roadmap and in the Long Range Plan of the Nuclear Physics European Collaboration Committee (NuPECC).

Once the deep underwater neutrino telescope at Lake Baikal is finished, the JINR will play a significant role in neutrino astronomy, which provides a great new tool for investigations of the Universe

The Baikal-GVD project is an international collaboration with the active engagement of scientists and engineers from Russia, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic. This is reflected in the names given to five clusters of the deep underwater Cherenkov counters that have been installed so far: Moscow, Dubna, Bratislava, Krakow and Prague, highlighting the significance of the contributions of these collaborations. Two more clusters are being commissioned right now, while another two are expected to be installed next year, and we expect to continue with this tempo until the end of construction. Based on optimism regarding the advancement of the Serbia-JINR cooperation, we could dream about commissioning a counter cluster named Belgrade in the foreseeable future.

The names of four elements in the periodic table of chemical elements are directly connected to the JINR – Dubnium, Flerovium, Moscovium and Oganesson. Could you tell us more about these achievements and the JINR’s future plans in this area?

Yes, you are right. Synthesis of new superheavy elements is one of our traditional topics, in which we are the world leaders. In total, the JINR has full or partial priority for the discovery of 10 chemical elements, including the five heaviest elements, with atomic numbers from 114 to 118, which have been synthesised in the last 20 years. As you mentioned, four of those 10 elements have been given names connected to the JINR. They are Dubnium (element 105), Flerovium (element 114), Moscovium (element 115), and Oganesson (element 118). Element 118 completes the seventh period of the Mendeleev Table of Chemical Elements.

We are continuing research in the field of superheavy elements. This will be advancing along with two main directions. The first direction is focused on the synthesis of even heavier elements, 119 and 120, which are the first elements of the eighth period of the Mendeleev Table.

Victor A. Matveev JINR

This task has the highest priority. The second priority is to open the programme of detailed studies of the nuclear and chemical properties of the superheavy elements already discovered.

Both tasks require an increase of the experimental sensitivity by several dozen times. This has motivated us to construct a new dedicated facility for superheavy element research. As I have already said, the facility has been named the SHE Factory. It is based on a new high-current accelerator, DC-280, which provides 10 times more intense beams of heavy ions than its predecessors at the JINR. Together with the new experimental set-ups, DC-280 will provide the necessary increase of experimental sensitivity. The SHE Factory was commissioned last year. We are about to launch its experimental programme and hope that new exciting results will appear in the nearest future.

How much has Serbia, as an Associated Member State, contributed to the activities of the JINR to date?

I take it that you are not referring solely to the financial aspect of this issue. Although the annual budgetary contribution of Serbia today, as an Associated Member State of the JINR, can be compared with those of some (fully-fledged) Member States, this budget contribution is growing continuously, in order to correlate with the expanding scope of our joint scientific interests. What is more important is that most of these financial resources are invested in supporting concrete joint research projects, which today amount to 12, as well as research visits to Dubna, primarily by young Serbian scientists.

The University of Novi Sad has become a channel of active interaction between the JINR and the Serbian research community, with the possibility of opening a JINR information centre there in 2020

Serbia has been an Associated Member State of the JINR for 13 years. Assessing the results of the first 10 years of our cooperation, we have registered 40 Serbian researchers participating in our joint projects and another 20 students participating in JINR international student programmes. These figures, especially the number of young scientists, are steadily growing, thanks first of all to the proactive approach of our Serbian colleagues. Gradually, the geography of the JINR partnership network in Serbia has expanded significantly – the University of Novi Sad has become a channel of our active interaction with the Serbian research community. We are this year planning to hold a school for young scientists at this University, and in the offing, we are looking forward to opening a JINR information centre there.

The Roadmap of Cooperation of Serbia and the JINR was signed during the recent visit of a Serbian delegation to the JINR. What do future plans encompass? Do you expect Serbia to become a Member State in the near future?

Becoming a Member State of our international organisation is a priority of the Government of Serbia, and we hope this decision will be made soon. Membership in the JINR means the ability to utilise all available cooperation opportunities and potentials. We proceed with a pragmatic approach – further progress should be based on achieved results and actual interests. The Roadmap is a plan of steps that we would like to make towards each other so that both sides become ready for this decision. It is worth mentioning that practical implementation of the Roadmap started before it was actually signed – the annual budget contribution of Serbia is increasing, Serbia is participating with voting rights in the work of the JINR Scientific Council, and a joint project has been launched to facilitate the further involvement of Serbian high-tech companies in JINR research projects.

How does the SIBI Project, orientated to the fourth industrial revolution, fit into that picture?

One of the significant driving forces, bringing together the JINR Member States and partners in joint cooperation projects is a desire to acquire advanced knowledge and technologies during practical work in Dubna and to apply this experience back home. That is why it is so important to develop national research infrastructure facilities in the Member States. As a result, it is possible to organise truly joint collaboration, on an equal footing.

It is worth recalling the JINR’s active participation in the realisation of the TESLA Project at the Vinča Institute of Nuclear Sciences, in Belgrade, Serbia, in the 1990s. Regrettably, the work was not completed, for reasons beyond the control of the Project participants. However, the FAMA facility, commissioned within the Project, is currently in operation and JINR researchers are among its active users.

Victor A. Matveev JINR

This is because FAMA and the applications department of the Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions of the JINR have developed mutually complementary research opportunities. Our Serbian colleagues also visit us frequently for experiments. So, a reliable cooperation axis has been established between the Vinča Institute and the JINR.

Today we hail the efforts of our Serbian friends who analyse options to finalise the successor of the TESLA Project, which has been renamed the SIBI Project and update it according to their current and future needs. We are ready to share our almost two decades of experience in building modern cyclotrons and are currently studying optimal solutions together.

What is the significance of the recently held Days of JINR in Serbia when it comes to future cooperation?

In our opinion, such events should take place on a regular basis. Electronic means of communication are absolutely fine. However, extended and wide-format direct meetings of scientists, engineers and decision-makers in science and education are indispensable in providing a comprehensive picture of all JINR cooperation opportunities and for building new partnerships. Serbia and the JINR have enjoyed good cooperation in science for a quarter of a century and half of that time

Serbia has been an Associated Member State of the JINR. During that period, a new generation of researchers and managers has appeared in Serbian science and the Days of JINR provided an opportunity to bring them all together in one place. As a result, the JINR delegation is returning to Dubna with a big portfolio of ideas and project proposals for immediate and future implementation.

COOPERATIONThe realisation of a mega-science class project is practically impossible without broad international cooperation. This is one of the main goals of CERN and the JINR RESOURCESThe JINR partner network today consists of about 800 research institutes and universities in more than 60 countries, about 150 of which are located in the EU ADVANCEMENTSSerbia and the JINR have enjoyed good cooperation in science for a quarter of century with an open possibility for Serbia to become a Member State in the near future

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