Interview with Lucio Rossi: “When an opportunity meets a need”

Lucio Rossi, coordinator of the HL-LHC project until July 2020, tells us about a new community-building intiative of INFN.


Lucio Rossi is a Physics professor at the Universty of Milano and led the high-luminosity upgrade of the LHC until 2020.

Lucio Rossi is a Physics professor at the Universty of Milano and led the high-luminosity upgrade of the LHC until 2020. (Image: CERN)

The Committee for Accelerator Science and Technology is an initiative from the National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN), the Italian research agency dedicated to the study of the fundamental particles and the forces between them. Composed of ten delegates and two observers, the Committee aims to bring together experts in particle accelerator science around key topics such as superconductivity and medical applications; bridge the connection between the particle accelerator community and INFN management, as well as offering strategic advice on accelerator research; and support the participation of INFN in national, regional and international funding opportunities.

What is the story behind the creation of this committee?

It is a consequence of the I.FAST proposal preparation [re: I.FAST or Innovation Fostering in Accelerator Science and Technology is a project co-funded by the European Commission under Horizon 2020]. During the project’s preparation phase, the EuCARD2 Committee and the TIARA organisation evaluated hundreds of pre-proposals submitted by the accelerator community. Everyone who submitted an Expression of Interest was on equal footing to be included in the final proposal, regardless of close professional connections. My good colleague Giovanni Bisoffi led a, shall we say, proto-committee with the goal of coordinating the proposals from INFN to I.FAST. The largest beneficiary in I.FAST after CERN is INFN, so we could really see the benefit of coordinating our efforts when applying for funding, which is one of the goals of the Committee. Afterwards, we decided to continue. I was on the verge of going back to Italy when INFN decided to put together the committee in 2020 and continue this work.

Giovanni Bisoffi was head of the Accelerator Division at the Legnaro National Laboratory, member of INFN.

But the purpose of the committee is not only to coordinate the answer to funding opportunities…

No, indeed. I would say there are four major goals for the Committee. The first is to bridge the connection between the accelerator “world” and INFN management. INFN is a network of national laboratories, research centres and schools, dispersed throughout Italy, so we need a way to coordinate our activities and make the most out of the knowledge in the institute. The Committee means to take on a consulting role to management about INFN’s strategy for particle accelerators and technology roadmaps; and to support the institute’s participation in national, regional and international calls. The biggest undertaking of the four is perhaps to try putting people together around thematic networks, bringing together experts from geographically sparse centres and creating synergies within INFN around topics like medical accelerator networks and magnets, communities that could then participate in larger, international projects.

Could you tell me about the day-to-day of the Committee?

There are ten delegates: seven are representatives from the different labs, accelerator scientists and engineers, two are representatives from European and national funding programmes, and one is a representative of the Knowledge Transfer Committee at INFN. Then we have the two observers, from two other transversal organisms like the Committee: INFN Energy and INFN Life Sciences. Now we have INFN Accelerator Science and Technology! They all aim to bring people together who work on the same thing at different locations in the country. We know each other very well, that is why the online format works for us. We have met every two weeks for the past year because of the pandemic. When you know each other well, this way of working opens many possibilities. It would have been harder if we had to travel for every meeting. The slow pace of the last year offered us an opportunity to launch something that met a specific need for INFN, who is not a single lab like CERN, but a group of different laboratories and institutes. Zoom cannot create a community, but it can keep people together.

So it is very much a national initiative. Or could it be a doorway for international collaboration?

In the future, maybe. For now, the answer is yes, it is a national initiative that is both internal- and external-facing. In the future, we hope to be a key piece in coordinating INFN’s activities on fundamental and applied physics with different countries and the European Commission, like in the I.FAST project. That is, we hope to be a direct partner for international relations. But not right now. It is important to say that we want this Committee to be a useful organism to INFN and we see its added value in giving structure and coordination to the efforts of INFN’s research groups.

One thing that we plan to do is to have a database of know-how and instruments at INFN that we could contact when needed for a project. In principle, it was done before, but this would be a more efficient way to coordinate and harmonise the collaboration.

Does this database tie in to the thematic networks you mentioned before?

In fact, they are the two sides of the committee.

There is a specific goal connected to making the most of INFN’s expertise, which is to stimulate the coordination of skills and equipment within INFN. For example, if you wanted to build a cryostat, you would need to know in which lab to build it, what are the technical requirements, who could help you with the project within the INFN network. That is the purpose of the database: to map the competences and projects within the network; that task is already ongoing under the supervision of Tiina Benson, an  electronics engineer with a Master’s in Communication [Development] and in Procurement [Logistics and Supply Chain Management], and a former member of the ATLAS communication team at CERN. We want to use this database also to identify the training needs of INFN scientists.

In the future, we would like to do the same with INFN’s relation with Industry; this task would count on the support of the Italian Industry Liaison Officer (ILO) at CERN, Mauro Morandini, who is also part of I.FAST.

On the other side of making use of INFN’s expertise are the thematic networks. Some of the key topics we want to address are medical accelerators, magnets and cryogenics, radiofrequency technology, and  ion sources… The first two have already started being set up.

Could you tell me a bit more about the thematic networks? What are the expected outcomes?

There is a trend rising in INFN to set up groups — or committees — to coordinate our activities and bring together people who have the right expertise in different disciplines. Like Maurizio Vretenar and Roy Aleksan, among other, did for I.FAST. In Italy, the pre-call had the benefit of bringing the community together. Now, we identify priorities in INFN’s needs, scientific and technological. In the future, we are thinking of starting identifying the training needs for INFN’s scientists, engineers and technicians. For example, we are examining a possibility of a collaboration with CERN for training in cryogenics — where there is a common need for acceleration due to massive use of superconductivity — and for other strategic projects like the Einstein Telescope.

I understand that for the scientific community, the benefits of this Committee are to harmonise competences and instruments at INFN, coordinate the application to funds at different levels, and create thematic networks around key topics and developments. What about for you personally? How and why did you get involved with the Committee?

It is a nice way to serve the accelerator community. I am at the end of my career, I already made my contribution [laughs] so now I can lend some of the experience I built during 20 years at CERN, working on the LHC [Large Hadron Collider] and HiLumi [the High-Luminosity LHC] projects… Plus it is added value for my University and it is a way to stay in touch with the accelerator community, coming back to Italy. If I can say that, it is a good initiative for Italy and for Europe, I am happy to be part of it. It brings the different parts of INFN together and facilitates the participation in the European ecosystem and CERN. It is a strong point for individual labs to participate in CERN and the Commission’s projects; in return, the strength of Europe and CERN is precisely that collaboration aspect.

Lucio Rossi contributed to the design of the well-known CERN blue dipole magnets, today present at many places around CERN. About it, he says: “I think I can say I built the LHC. I mean, it is a bit like the modern cathedral. Who built it? Everybody and nobody.”

What about everyone else? How can society benefit from initiatives like this?

There are tens of thousands of accelerators in the world, most people don’t know this. If you go to a hospital, you can get treated by a particle accelerator. An example is the tomography, which has a small linac (linear accelerator) behind it; or the magnetic resonance, which has a magnet using superconductors developed for accelerators. If people know this, they might support our science; and we know that we have done something useful. My great teacher Ugo Amaldi used to say, “There is the physics that is beautiful and the physics that is useful.” We can do beautiful things like the LHC, but it is not just beautiful, useful things can also come out of it. They are the two legs that make science walk, beauty and use.


Lucio Rossi obtained the title of doctor in Physics   from University of Milano in 1980 with a thesis on plasma physics. During the 1990s, Rossi was involved in many experiments such as the Superconducting Cyclotron (SC) currently in Catania, HERA at DESY in Hamburg and Large Hadron Collider at CERN. His main activities were the design and construction of coils, solenoids, superconductors and prototypes for magnets. From 2001-2011 he led the Magnet Superconductor and Cryostat Group (MSC) for the LHC project. He led the High Luminosity LHC project between 2011 and 2020. Currently, Rossi is a Physics professor at the University of Milano.