The Pierre Auger Project - A Model for International Science
Auger Project to build the world's largest cosmic ray observatory is
approaching completion on a vast plain in western
The Pierre Auger Collaboration
Project was conceived in the hallway during the International Cosmic Ray
A design workshop was held at Fermilab between February and July of 1995. During this time visitors to Fermilab, organized into detector specific subgroups, planned the project. This effort was supported by a series of seminars by experts on a variety of related topics. The Fermilab workshop produced a design report with a discussion of the science, a conceptual design and cost estimate. The Design Report became the basis for funding proposals by the collaborating Auger countries to their funding agencies.
The Auger design calls for an array of 1600 water Cherenkov surface detectors spread over 3000 km2 and arranged on a triangular grid, with the sides of the triangles being 1.5 km. The surface array is overlooked from four sites by fluorescence detector stations, each containing six fixed telescopes, designed to detect air-fluorescence light. The surface detector stations measure the density distribution of the air shower cascade at it strikes the surface while the fluorescence telescopes measure the light produced by atmospheric nitrogen excited by the cascading shower. Beyond its large aperture, the most powerful feature of the design is the ability to record showers simultaneously with these two complementary techniques.
The Auger Observatory. Each dot corresponds to one of the 1600 surface detector stations. The four fluorescence detector enclosures are shown, each with the field of view of its six telescopes.
A surface detector station A fluorescence telescope enclosure
The site search got underway almost immediately after the Fermilab Design Workshop using funds from a private grant. With the physical site requirements developed during the design workshop in hand, a team evaluated numerous prospective sites in both hemispheres. The site selection was based primarily on these requirements and the quality of the scientific support in the host country. An important, but secondary, consideration was the value of incentives that potential host countries offered. Selecting the site early and within the collaboration was a deliberate strategy to avoid the painful process such as that witnessed in the Superconducting Supercollider (SSC) project. In 1995 and 1996 preferred sites were selected by the collaboration in the Southern and Northern hemispheres respectively. In the selection process each Auger country had one vote.
After a period of research and development, the Engineering Array, consisting of 32 active prototype surface array detectors and two prototype fluorescence telescopes, was built to validate the design. A strong push to complete the Engineering Array on schedule was essential to persuade the funding agencies (and ourselves) that the Auger collaboration could deliver on performance promises made in the proposal. Before the end of the scheduled two years, the Engineering Array was able to record and reconstruct air shower events with both detectors and simultaneously by the surface array and the fluorescence detectors. We were able to demonstrate the viability of our deployment methodology as well as the performance of all of our detectors, communications equipment and data systems. Indeed, we found that the detectors performed even better than expected, substantially increasing our physics reach.
Installation of production detectors was started in 2002. As of this writing the detectors are more than 75% completed. While the Engineering Array was assembled and deployed almost completely by Auger collaborators, production deployment has been transferred to trained Observatory staff. The scientists now oversee the quality of the work and carry out the commissioning the completed detectors.
The Observatory started collecting data in January 2004. The first physics results were presented during the 2005 summer conference season. There are now two physics papers in publication and several others in preparation.
The collaboration that emerged during
and after the Fermilab Design Workshop now consists of about 69 institutions in
17 countries spread over Europe, North and South America and
The first step in forming the collaboration was to draw up an organization headed by two oversight bodies - Collaboration Board and Finance Board. The Collaboration Board, consisting of representatives from all of the Auger member institutions, is the governing body of the collaboration that deals with such issues as science policy, admission of new members and publications.
The Finance Board, on the CERN model, consists of representatives of each of the funding agencies - often more than one per country. The Finance Board provides financial and management oversight. The meetings of this body provide a forum for funding agencies of the partner countries to resolve funding related problems. The Finance Board has been particularly important to the success of Auger because of the nature of the partnership. It has been in our interest, as it surely would be to all international projects to have such a body with full representation and the confidence of the partners.
The next organizational step was to
develop an international agreement that would be acceptable to the
collaborating countries. A draft agreement was developed that was a synthesis
of governance schemes from collider experiments and large astronomy projects.
The Finance Board met at UNESCO in
Below the Finance Board and Collaboration Board in the Auger organization chart is the spokesperson and the project office. The project management structure is fairly typical. The project management office staff consists of the project manager, deputy project manager, the project engineer, a cost and schedule officer and part time help with quality assurance and safety. Task Leaders (level two managers) head task groups for the detector subsystems, site activities, data acquisition, data processing, communications and data analysis.
The Auger Observatory in
Auger employs the tools of management that we have learned over recent years from industry and large science projects like those at Fermilab, CERN and the ill-fated SSC. These include cost and schedule tracking, elements of systems engineering and quality assurance and ES&H (environment, safety and health) programs. These tools were adapted to the particular needs of Auger, an international project based on an equal partnership. For example, imposing elaborate cost and schedule tracking systems on a group of countries that contribute mostly in-kind and that have different accounting methods and whose accounting records are inaccessible is impractical. We converted the value of all of the contributions to a standard Auger currency (nominally US dollars) corrected for the cost accounting system of each country. Progress was tracked bimonthly and in semi-annual reporting sessions with the Task Leaders.
We have adopted the most effective features of systems engineering and quality assurance while avoiding the rigorous application of these methods often advocated by their proponents with almost religious fervor. Many groups, particularly small ones used to small experiments with a few people suffer culture shock when exposed to the management discipline required in large projects. At first we found that the frequent technical reviews, change control actions and requests for cost and schedule information were often considered bureaucratic harassment. Once the essential role of these tools to our success was understood, the Auger collaborators accepted and even promoted them. The frequent technical reviews served more than just to ensure the quality of the design, construction and operation of the systems. Builders of the disparate systems were made part of each others review panels thereby extending their sense of ownership and responsibility for the performance of the project as a whole.
Bob Wilson, the builder of Fermilab, taught us that science projects are best managed by scientists. That remains advice worth heeding. In its formative years, Auger often found itself under pressure to install “professional managers” of one kind or another. Although scientists managing science projects may not always rigorously follow management orthodoxy, they have been successful because they are driven by a passionate commitment to the science goals. Managers and engineers lend essential discipline to the project while the day by day decisions at the highest levels need to be made by scientists with a clear understanding of the science objectives always in mind. The good news for those in governments and funding agencies concerned about sound management of projects large and small is that the world scientific community is growing an experienced cadre of scientist-managers as the result of the growing scale of the science projects over the past few decades.
Once the Auger Project was organized, a list of the anticipated contributions by each country was drawn up. By the terms of the International Agreement the contribution of each country was to consist of 80% in-kind deliverables and 20% cash, the latter contributed to a common fund held by CERN. The common fund for big collider experiments is typically for costly components such as big solenoid magnets, an expense that needs to be shared. In Auger the Common Fund was nominally for the procurement of photomultiplier tubes that, for Auger, is one of the biggest single expenses. Some countries preferred to buy the phototubes directly from the vendor rather than contribute to the Common Fund thus expanding its currency to both cash and phototubes. At the same time the Common Fund account served as a convenient neutral collection point for construction and operating funds.
The distribution of construction tasks produced relatively few conflicts. One exception was the reticence of some countries to fund civil construction beyond their borders. At the same time the host country did not want to fund all of the bricks and mortar. In fact as time went on the funding agencies became more flexible as the practical requirements for the success of such large and diverse international project became apparent.
In the beginning there was a strong feeling on the part of many countries that they had to have a specific, complete piece of hardware on which they could paint their flag. Although this was a headache at first such demands soon faded away as the collaboration began to work closely together. At this point it is hard to find a piece of Auger equipment that does not contain components from several countries.
The past three decades of large high
energy physics experiments that depended on commitment and good will of the
participants have been remarkably successful. In fact, participants typically
contribute more than they originally promise. The Auger Project has been a
beneficiary of this tradition of good will. Nevertheless to make international
science projects work, countries must assume some risk that one or more of the
partners may not meet their commitment for reasons beyond their control. In the ten years or more from the proposal
through construction large projects, economic conditions in some of the
collaborating countries may change. In the case of Auger Project the drastic
devaluation of the currencies in
Another funding related issue is the importation of equipment into the host country. If much of the equipment is to be in-kind, a smooth importation scheme must be found at the outset. In the beginning Auger was facing many millions of dollars in customs charges. Eventually our Argentine colleagues were able to work out an arrangement in which the embassy of each participating country would apply for a customs waiver to the Argentine foreign ministry for each shipment of equipment. The embassies have been enormously helpful to us in this regard. The importation now works quite smoothly and we are comfortable when the customs agents appear unannounced to make sure that the equipment is indeed used in the project.
As is now common practice, operating costs for the Observatory including salaries, utilities and maintenance are apportioned by the number of scientists that sign scientific papers. Major changes or upgrades are not included in the operating budget. The annual operating cost is currently less than three percent of the capital cost.
The Auger Observatory is located in
Malargüe, a rather remote city of 20,000 people at the base of the
Auger collaborators marching in the Malargüe Day parade
The Auger Observatory, originated from an idea
in 1991 to probe the mysteries of the highest energy cosmic rays, is now
approaching completion in