Boğaziçi’s Signature at CERN (October 27, 2015)

Boğaziçi University is a key player in scientific research in the field of particle physics in Turkey. Among the research teams from Turkey at the European Nuclear Research Center (CERN), the group working under the umbrella of Boğaziçi includes two prominent scientists from Boğaziçi University, Professor Erhan Gülmez and Associate Professor Erkcan Özcan. We spoke with Prof. Gülmez and Prof. Özcan about their work in the experiments that started in the 1990s, and the contribution of Boğaziçi University to those experiments.

Professor Erhan Gülmez and Associate Professor Erkcan Özcan from the Boğaziçi University Department of Physics have been conducting long-term research at CERN, the biggest particle physics laboratory in the world. Boğaziçi University has been part of the work at CERN since the early 1990s. Professor Gülmez and Associate Professor Özcan talked to us about the research and experiments in which Boğaziçi University has been participating.  

Prof. Gülmez is the head of the Boğaziçi team in the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment, one of the biggest experiments in the history of the facility. He holds the position of Resource Manager in the HCAL project organization, and is responsible for the management of resources for the HCAL sub-detector in the CMS experiment. He also represents CERN non-member states participating in the CMS experiment on the CMS Management Board. He is the team leader for the Boğaziçi University group and the country representative for Turkey in the CMS.

Associate Prof. Erkcan Özcan is the leader of the team of scientists participating in the ATLAS collaboration from Turkey under the umbrella of Boğaziçi University.

Could we start with a brief history of Boğaziçi University’s relationship with CERN?

Erkcan Özcan: Turkey’s relationship with CERN began in 1961, with observer status. Researchers from Turkey initially participated in some minor experiments at CERN. In the 1980s, the number of scientists with doctoral degrees in the field of experimental particle and accelerator physics could still be counted on the fingers of one hand. The turning point in our relationship with CERN came when the late Professor Engin Arık, a well-known particle physicist and former lecturer in the Department of Physics, started to participate in the ATLAS experiment at CERN. Boğaziçi University was the first university from Turkey to take part in this experiment. Now, carrying the torch passed to us by Engin Arık, we are continuing our studies on the ATLAS project as a team. As you know, the ATLAS and CMS experiments made history with the discovery of a new particle consistent with the Higgs boson.

Erhan Gülmez:  I took the particle physics course from Professor Engin Arık in my senior year.  I graduated from Boğaziçi University in 1982.  Professor Arık was at BU at that time and was participating in some experiments at CERN, but our official participation at CERN as Boğaziçi University began in the early 1990s. In those years, the High Energy Physics Research Center was established at Middle East Technical University, supported first by the State Planning Organization, and then by TUBITAK, the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey. Boğaziçi University, Middle East Technical University, and Çukurova University participated in the CERN experiments CHARM II and CHORUS within that framework.

My participation in the CERN experiment as a member of Boğaziçi University started when I returned from the USA. I received my doctorate degree from Yale in 1986. After working at UCLA for a while, I returned to Turkey in 1992. In 1993, I participated in the Spin Muon Collaboration (SMC) experiment (UCLA was also a participant), with Engin Arık. There were only the two of us from Boğaziçi, and some students from Istanbul Technical University on our team.

What was the starting point of the SMC experiment?

Erhan Gülmez: In high-energy physics, experiments can go on for years and even though an experiment comes to an end, it might continue on in another direction. Two types of experiments are carried out at CERN. In the first type, a beam of accelerated particles is directed at a solid, liquid, or gas target. We call these “fixed-target” experiments. The second type of experiment involves head-on collisions of accelerated particles. These are called “collider experiments.” The CHARM II and CHORUS experiments that I mentioned were fixed-target experiments. The SMC was also a fixed-target experiment. The aim was to penetrate both the proton and the neutron to understand their inner spin structure. The experiment lasted a few years and we obtained some important results. I left during the last year of the experiment, and data analyses on it continued for some time. In 1994, the ATLAS and CMS experiments started. I was a member of ATLAS for a brief period in 1994, but then left ATLAS to join another project, called SELEX, at Fermilab in the USA.

You are the Boğaziçi University team leader in the ongoing CMS experiment at CERN.  Could you tell us something about the project?

Erhan Gülmez:  The Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) is one of the general-purpose particle physics detectors of the Proton-Proton Large Hadron Collider built at CERN. The cylindrical detector measures 21 meters in length, 16 meters in diameter, and weighs approximately 12,500 tons. The CMS involves over 2000 physicists and engineers, and is one of the biggest experiments in CERN history. The project started in 1994. We joined as Boğaziçi University in 2000.

The Boğaziçi University group includes physicists from several Turkish universities, namely Bilgi University, Istanbul University, Kafkas University, Marmara University, Mimar Sinan University, and Yıldız Technical University. The Boğaziçi University team is working in the Hadron Calorimeter section of the Compact Muon Solenoid detector, in particular, in the forward section (HF). During the building of the detector, we had some mechanical parts manufactured in Turkey with the money provided by TUBITAK for the CMS; the companies finished these jobs well before the expected time and without any problems, at low cost. They received the gold award from the CMS Collaboration for their successful operation.

Professor Özcan, what is the ATLAS experiment and who are the members on the Boğaziçi University’s ATLAS team at CERN?

Erkcan Özcan:  ATLAS is one of the six experiments started taking data at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in September 2008.  The others are the CMS, LHCb LHCf, ALICE and TOTEM experiments.

ATLAS is a general-purpose experiment designed to measure the trajectories, energies, and momenta of the observed particles. It is the biggest in volume among all of the particle physics experiments to date. It is also the biggest experiment in the history of science in terms of manpower: it involves the collaboration of thousands of physicists and engineers.

The Boğaziçi team is part of this collaboration. The team is made up of scientists not only from Boğaziçi University; researchers from Bilgi, Bahçeşehir, and Gaziantep universities also work within the structure established under the umbrella of Boğaziçi.

In which experiments at CERN is Boğaziçi University participating at present?

Erkcan Özcan: Like we said, there are some major experiments going on at CERN. As Boğaziçi University, we are part of the two biggest experiments at the Large Hadron Collider, namely the ATLAS and the CMS.

There are other experiments conducted at CERN that do not use an accelerator. One of those is the CERN Axion Solar Telescope (CAST). CAST is a telescope experiment designed to search unobserved, hypothetical particles originating from space, or more specifically, from the sun. Professor Metin Arık of Boğaziçi University was also involved in this experiment. Cenk Yıldız, our doctoral student, completed his dissertation on this experiment. Cenk held an important position at CERN for a long time as the principal liaison officer for this experiment.

In the context of the relationship between CERN and BU that has been continuing since the 1990s, what has Boğaziçi University gained?

Erhan Gülmez: I have had two doctoral students involved in the CMS experiments. Engin Arık had one student: Serkant Çetin. Serkant is now the representative of Turkey on the ATLAS team and is at Bilgi University. In this context, we have gained highly qualified researchers. Additionally, the number of publications of the Department of Physics has increased considerably.

Erkcan Özcan: Boğaziçi University is the only Turkish university and one of few universities in the world simultaneously taking part in two big experiments, ATLAS and CMS. The contributions of Engin Arık in opening the door of CERN to BU members cannot be forgotten. An upgrade is planned for ATLAS for 2018-2022 and Boğaziçi University wants to have a place in this process. It is important to participate as an institution because we are talking about a process that will last a minimum of 10 to 15 years. Likewise, there is a project involving the renovation of our existing laboratory here. We aim to produce prototypes of some of the detectors we presently use at CERN in our new lab and introduce them to the industry.

Speaking of industry, what exactly are your goals?

Erkcan Özcan: The research we do here has a support system made up of the Turkish Atomic Energy Authority (TAEK), CERN, TUBITAK, the University, and Technology Transfer. We receive financial support from TAEK to cover our trips and our membership payments, project support from TUBITAK for developing detectors, and infrastructure support from Boğaziçi University. With their help, we are developing projects that will contribute not only to science, but to technology transfer as well. In other words, while we are working to contribute to science, we are also trying to bring to Turkey some new technologies that are lacking. These technologies have a wide range of applications from the life sciences to information technologies.

What are the applications that can be transformed to products in the field of high-energy physics? Could you give us some examples?

Erhan Gülmez: Of course, the best known is the www information system, which we call Internet in our daily live. The Internet infrastructure was a system used by high-energy institutions among themselves until 1991, when it went public.  At that time not even those who initiated it could have imagined that with the www interface, the Internet would get where it is today.

Other than the Internet, if you ask whether the results of high-energy physics are transferred to application, I can’t think of a direct result offhand. But we are pushing technology to the limits to do the experiment. For example, we want faster and more powerful computers. In that context, I can say that we are motivating industry.

At present, we are trying to find answers to questions about basic problems. As we find those answers, we are contributing to the advancement of science.

More practically, let me give you a specific example from our experiment. TUBITAK contributed 1 million Swiss Francs to the CMS. Seven hundred thousand Swiss Francs of that amount was to be used on the detectors on which we work. We had some of the pieces of the detector manufactured by two companies in Bursa and Istanbul. As a result of this joint effort, CERN bought those products from Turkey, which means some of the amount paid to the CMS returned to Turkey.

Here’s another example: We needed some electronic cards to be used in the detectors in the CMS. Half of these cards were planned to be manufactured in Brazil, but the Brazilians were unable to complete the task. We had a company in Kartal to manufacture the cards, and they worked without a problem. Now we are about to begin bigger projects as the Turkish group in terms of the upgrade of the CMS detector. We are trying to have part of this work done in Turkey.

The Times Higher Education (THE) 2015-2016 ranking of universities excluded from the analysis citations made to papers on major experiments. This stirred a debate in scientific and academic circles. How do you evaluate this? What is your opinion on the issue?

Erkcan Özcan:  Ranking establishments can be biased on some points and can change the criteria in line with their own expectations. Those institutions give equal weight to almost all academic publications and citations, whereas they should conduct some serious data analysis and judge the quality of science using scientific methodology. 

In big experiments like those at CERN, the process may last 40 to 50 years, which means a need for resources and work force over a long period of time. That need can be met only by academics who will work on these experiments for many years, by institutions that have the vision to support them, but perhaps at the cost of fewer publications and consequently fewer citations. To enable young researchers to continue the work achieved by the generation before them, universities must have the wisdom to allocate the staff positions to those individuals who can work together on a common field of study, and to have the infrastructure to evaluate their performance with a different set of criteria during this time. Universities must be aware that this type of research will not bring in as much financial benefit as “applied” research, and that industry-university cooperation can flourish only in the long term. However, in countries like Turkey, private (foundation) universities refrain from providing support for such studies.

I believe that institutions like Boğaziçi University, which have the vision to invest in and support research in this field, deserve to have the credit they have earned in these comprehensive experiments. Their accomplishments should be evaluated properly. This year’s THE rankings have been criticized by researchers in Turkey and around the world. British researchers, for example, strongly objected to the exclusion of these studies from the analysis, especially at a time like this when financial support to science has been declining.

Erhan Gülmez:  In experiments in which a large number of people participate, each participant needs to receive credit. We are doing far-reaching research in the field of physics. Over three thousand scientists are involved in this experiment because the detectors are enormous, and just nine or ten people cannot conduct a research of this size. Not only universities in Turkey, but CERN administration and the managements of prominent laboratories in the world are quite frustrated with this year’s THE ranking. 

You can read the comments they have posted on THE’s blog at

When this decision was made public by THE, I was at CERN, where many people expressed their frustration with the changes in the ranking system. I was told that CERN and CMS administrations had shared their opinions with THE. Moreover, in addition to the publications related to CERN, those related to the Human Genome Research also were excluded from the calculations. 

We contribute to these experiments as Boğaziçi University and this contribution should have been taken into account. I think these types of decisions are somewhat political. Additionally, these rankings harm rather than support universities because they reduce the complexity of a university to a single number.

Another problem with these rankings concerns the diversity in universities. When the quality of a university is indicated by a single number, this diversity becomes invisible. The same problem may appear in academic promotions as well.

At Boğaziçi University we have instituted an Academic Encouragement Award. This is an annual award given to academics. One of the criteria for the award is whether the papers and publications comply with the department’s promotion criteria instead of a general rule. In other words, there are different criteria for each department and each field of study.

Another example is the promotion from assistant professor to associate professor, and from associate professor to professor. In other universities, there is a score system for such promotions. You receive separate points for publications, teaching, administrative duties, and so forth, reducing the achievements of an individual to a single number. That is not the way it is done at Boğaziçi University. Here at BU, each department has established its own promotion criteria; an academic is not viewed as a single figure. I think this is very good. That is what makes BU special, I guess.