CERN Accelerating science

International School on Precision Studies for the AVA Network

Solving the mystery of the imbalance between matter and antimatter in the universe has been one of the greatest challenges in physics. Experiments using low energy antimatter give insight into some of the most fundamental questions in science. They allow probing symmetries and interactions in unprecedented detail. In order to perform these experiments, highly sophisticated facilities such as CERN’s antiproton decelerator rings AD and ELENA are required.

The Accelerators Validating Antimatter physics (AVA) project enables an interdisciplinary and cross-sector program on antimatter research. This project is an Innovative Training Network within the H2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme. The foundation of the AVA Network is the training and continued development of AVA Fellows who contribute to fundamental questions around antimatter.

The latest training, a week-long School on Precision Studies, was organised to take place in Prague (Czech Republic) at the end of March 2020. However, due to the travel restrictions in place as a result of the coronavirus pandemic it was no longer possible to hold this advanced school as planned. To keep a significant part of the school content, it was decided to run the meeting as an online event.

The virtual School was joined by more than 50 participants and saw lectures and topical talks given by world-leading experts. They presented the latest results in theoretical and experimental antimatter studies along with wider research in accelerator science and particle physics. The event started with a recap of the basics of beam handling and cooling techniques, instrumentation and particle trapping on the first day. This was complemented with an in-depth overview of the experimental programme at the Antiproton Decelerator (AD) facility at CERN where currently all of the low energy antimatter physics research is carried out. Presentations highlighted the state-of-the-art and the challenges associated with limited intensities, machine access and required precision.


The online school was joined by more than 50 participants. (Image credit: University of Liverpool)

The School continued by putting the AVA research programme into a wider context. This included ‘classic’ particle physics experiments, interferometry and quantum technologies. These talks helped understand the wider context in which precision studies are placed. Slides from all presentations, poster contributions and recordings from the talks can be viewed via the events indico page.

In the current landscape, connecting people online has become increasingly the norm. It allows continuity of meetings and events albeit in a different format. This presents an opportunity to overcome some of the challenges associated with remote working. The online format of this school successfully allowed interactive discussions benefiting from Zoom’s chat functionality. Whilst not a full replacement for the original school, the online event allowed speakers and participants to connect and share information in a way that was not done before within the AVA Network.

Professor Carsten P. Welsch, AVA Coordinator and Head of the Physics Department at the University of Liverpool (UK), said: “The presentations highlighted the current state-of-the-art in precision studies using low energy antimatter beams. They also clearly showed the numerous challenges from limited beam intensities, machine access and the required precision. The AVA research has helped significantly improve a number of key technologies for these studies and also paved the way for entirely new experiments. Whilst the School could not take the planned format on this occasion, it still offered an excellent opportunity for discussions and knowledge exchange.”

The invaluable help of FOTON and the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences for helping to organise the school is acknowledged.

Looking forward, the AVA Network will be co-organising the International Conference on Exotic Atoms and Related Topics, the 7th edition of the EXA conference series, which will take place in Vienna (Austria) next year. Latest news and information about upcoming events can be found on the AVA webpage.


The AVA project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 721559.

Ubaldo Iriso (ALBA-CELLS)
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Different techniques of emittance measurements for SLS and FELs

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Isabel Bejar Alonso & Francisco Sanchez Galan (CERN)
A new JTT shielding adapting ATLAS to Hilumi configuration
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A new JTT shielding adapting ATLAS to Hilumi configuration

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Maurizio Vretenar (CERN)
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AVA – Training (anti)matters

Antimatter experiments are at the cutting edge of science; however, they are very difficult to undertake as antimatter is produced at extremely high energies. The ELENA decelerator at CERN is designed to overcome these problems, catching and slowing antiprotons to energies as low as 0.1 MeV. To fully exploit this novel accelerator, it will be important to train a new researcher generation in experimental design and optimization, advanced beam diagnostics and novel low energy antimatter experiments. AVA is an Innovative Training Network within the H2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions created for that purpose. Five universities, eight national and international research centres and thirteen industrial partners are collaborating in this interdisciplinary program.

At the very heart of the AVA network is a series of established and bespoke training events running throughout the project lifespan. From 8th – 12th January 2018, the AVA Fellows attended a Researcher Skills School at the University of Liverpool. They were joined by a student cohort from LIV.DAT, an STFC-funded centre for doctoral training that focusses on challenges arising in Big Data Science. Such a collegiate approach has two distinct advantages: i) the advantages of scale – the costs of training can be shared to bring otherwise unaffordable opportunities to more people, and ii) it brings together trainees from a variety of disciplines to develop personal networks and start interdisciplinary collaborations.


Training at Liverpool – the original ‘red-brick’ University (Image credit: QUASAR Group).

The Researcher Skills School at Liverpool focused on developing skills essential for early stage researchers and included training in project management, peer review and intellectual property rights. A workshop on presentation skills held at The Cockcroft Institute included video recording presentations with feedback from both Fellows and trainers.


Highlights of the week at the University of Liverpool and the Cockcroft Institute (Image credit: QUASAR Group).

Professor Carsten Welsch, who leads both projects, commented, “Liverpool University has an outstanding track record in delivering bespoke postgraduate training courses. This Skills School follows a programme developed through previous training networks and was commended as EU success story by the European Commission as part of past project reviews.

The following week the AVA Fellows attended a bespoke Media Training at MediaCityUK, one of the UK’s premier creative hubs. Throughout their career, successful researchers will need to use professional media techniques to promote and advertise their research. This programme offered them the opportunity to develop these skills by producing their very own project video.

The week began with an overview of the creative process by hosts Carbon Digital before preproduction started. Storyboards were created and professional voice-over artists recorded scripts. The fellows learned about camera techniques and green screen filming and everyone had the opportunity to film and be filmed before the fellows decided amongst themselves who should star in the final cut. They had to consider how to communicate the scientific aims of the AVA project best to a broad and international audience. The postproduction process can be as intense and creative as preproduction and production combined. It offers dynamic opportunities to change the storyboard, soundscape and visuals. The Fellows actively engaged in postproduction to explain how antimatter is created at CERN, and how ELENA will help open up entirely new research opportunities.


Training with host Carbon Digital at MediaCityUK (Image credit: QUASAR Group).

Sue McHugh from Carbon Digital said, “It has been inspiring to see researchers from across the world come together to create such a high quality final film. This is an example of successful industry-academia collaboration which can only help improve the overall employment prospects of the researchers.

The AVA project film can be seen here.

After such an intense training fortnight, the AVA Fellows are now concentrating on their research until summer, when they will attend a week-long International School on Low Energy Antimatter Physics. This will be held between 25th - 29th June at CERN. and will be followed by hands-on training days on Detectors and Beam Diagnostics offered by Stahl Electronics and Bergoz Instrumentation, respectively.

The Summer School, open to all interested researchers, will address challenges in antimatter facility design and optimization, beyond state of the art beam diagnostics and advanced detectors, as well as novel antimatter experiments. In addition to lectures by research leaders, there will be study groups, a poster session and a dedicated industry session. There will also be opportunities for discussion and networking at evening events and tours of CERN’s unique accelerator facilities. 

Chris Edmonds (University of Liverpool)
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Panos Charitos (CERN)
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