Physics Online and Overseas
International collaboration has long played a fundamental role in high-energy physics. Experimental results pass around the globe in seconds, making collaboration easier between far flung labs and scientists.
For decades, countries across the world have contributed to high energy physics by lending top minds to laboratories in developed regions like Asia, Europe and North America. Now, some countries in the developing world are aiming to play a bigger role in experiments through data analysis.
One such country is Pakistan. Les Cottrell, of the Scientific Computing and Computing Services (SCCS) Group, said Pakistani physicists are eager to take a more prominent role in high energy physics. Cottrell went to Pakistan in February to encourage the country's further involvement in the development of computing infrastructure for projects like the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and the proposed International Linear Collider (ILC).
Pakistan has a long history of contribution to high-energy physics. Pakistanís Abdus Salam won the 1979 Nobel Prize along with an American and a British physicist, for the theory of unified weak and electromagnetic interactions between elementary particles.
Today, Pakistan produces many renowned physicists and is already deeply involved in the LHC. Scientists at the NUST Institute of Information Technology hope to further establish themselves by becoming a major LHC grid node. According to Cottrell, however, a major obstacle impeding their progress is Pakistan's network speed.
Information sent from overseas, such as an email, takes a few stops before it appears on a screen. Sending a message from SLAC to Paris, for example, can involve brief stop-offs in Sunnyvale, Chicago, New York and London. The same is true for Pakistan, however the delay is exacerbated by congested routers and low speed copper links that slow the information down.
During his most recent visit to Pakistan, Cottrell shared results from a program (PingER) his team of collaborators from SLAC, FNAL and NUST developed, that gauges the performance of international networks. The program sends out a message, or "ping," to a distant host and measures how long it takes to return. Using this information, Cottrell is getting a sense of which parts of the world are better equipped to participate in international high-energy physics analysis. With this information he has been working to encourage Pakistani leaders to support international physics by investing in infrastructure and addressing "last mile" problems.
"If you want to be a player in the international collaboration stage you're going to need to do something about your networking," he said.
Erik Vance   SLAC Today April 6, 2006