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ILC-Japan: rebuilding trust and support for the ILC

| 26 November 2021

ILC-Japan, a new promoting body for the International Linear Collider project, was launched this spring. ILC NewsLine interviewed Shoji Asai, chair of ILC-Japan, to learn more about it.

What is ILC-Japan? How is it different from former organisations like the ILC Steering Panel?

Asai: The objective of ILC-Japan and the ILC Steering Panel are basically the same; to realise the International Linear Collider in Japan. 

The panel was established by the Japan High Energy Physics Committee that represents the Japan Association of High Energy Physicists (JAHEP) to help the ILC International Development Team (IDT) to facilitate transition into the pre-lab phase. The panel has been conducting various grassroots efforts. However, it is organised and run by scientists, most of whom are working on the ILC project, which is a relatively small group of people. 

The main objective of the ILC-Japan is to widen the promotional community to involve scientists in different projects and research areas such as ATLAS, SuperKEKB, or neutrino research, as well as theorists. 

Another important objective is to coordinate supporters around the ILC project. Since the ILC is a very large project that is not limited to science, many parties are concerned: funding agencies, politics, industries, parties on the candidate site and the international research community. ILC-Japan will function as the representative of the Japanese community, to work with stakeholders.

What kind of activities has ILC-Japan been working on so far?

Right now, we are preparing a report for the expert panel organised by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology MEXT, which was restarted this July to review the previous discussions with an updated status of the project. We are working hard to bring out the best support from the members of the expert panel. 

Another very difficult task is to assist government officials in carrying out the international talks. At this time, neither the Japanese government nor its foreign counterpart are ready to discuss the cost-sharing for the ILC. But without this discussion, the impasse cannot be resolved. So, I think what we should be doing is create an opportunity to start the talks on a more informal basis, just to build a relationship of trust. Because the community has presented the cost-sharing model in the past, it appears to be viewed as a fixed requirement outside the community, but that is not the case. We really need to dispel misunderstandings in order to move forward. Also, we should start the discussion with younger scientists of all projects for the future.

What do you see as the most difficult issue to resolve in order for the ILC to be realised?

The biggest challenge is changing the atmosphere. I think that the MEXT and other academic researchers (not only non-particle physicists but some part of particle physicists) consider that our community can not carry out this great project. They feel that our cost-sharing and human resource planning is unrealistic.

These negative comments by other academic researchers definitely have an impact on the MEXT decision and the tone of the media. It is important that these concerns be addressed.

To do so, we need to change the way we communicate. We need to return to the starting point once again. As scientists, we need to focus on the scientific importance to gain a better understanding of the ILC. In my opinion, we are lacking support from the particle physics community in Japan, so we are trying to set up an environment to discuss ILC science with scientists outside of the ILC community. I believe this will help bring back the passion for the physics case of the ILC.  Furthermore, diversity of Physics Program is also important to obtain wide support. ILC Lab should be open for the various physics programs.

What can the international science community do for ILC realisation?

Although the world is recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, the environment surrounding basic science has completely changed, and maintaining their social security system is the most urgent issue for each country. Also, global environmental awareness is growing, and we need to work hard to make accelerators, which consume so much energy for operation, sustainable. These conditions have made it difficult for us to secure robust support for ILC. The situation has completely changed, and we have to reconsider; What accelerator science can do for our earth and our world.

What we can do is to show worldwide readiness. As there is a concern about securing  human resources to realise the ILC, we need to demonstrate that there really is worldwide support and passion for the project. Let’s show worldwide collaborations and ILC advanced technologies change the future.

I know many scientists are frustrated but, we have to wait until the wind blows, and I wish many colleagues around the world will help us by giving us your ideas and insights how we can achieve our goal.

What does the ILC mean to you?

The JLC, the linear collider project planned in Japan in the 1990’s, was my first involvement in the collider experiment. I was originally an atomic physicist studying posironim. One day, professor Shuji Orito, who was my supervisor at the time, told me to study scalar top quark at the 1Tev JLC collider experiment. It was in the middle of March, and I needed to prepare a slides for Prof. Orirto who gave a presentation at the international conference in Hawaii in May. I still remember sending him plots by Fax until just before his presentation. It was my initiation into the linear collider project. 

I joined the LEP-II project at CERN in 1994, then the ATLAS experience at the LHC, I have been working on circular machine experiments for a long time. Now, getting back to the linear collider community, I’d like to do something for the linear collider again by spending my last decade or so as a scientist.

The main objective of the ILC to study the structure of vacuum using the Higgs particle is already important and valuable, but I envision the ILC laboratory more than that. We are planning to start the ILC as a Higgs factory, but I would like to make the ILC into more comprehensive laboratory where the research for not only particles but expand to space-time or vacuum, eventually.

Thank you very much.

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