Helsinki Institute of Physics: Finnish particle physics research

Helsinki Institute of Physics: Finnish particle physics research

Professor Katri Huitu outlines how the Helsinki Institute of Physics is working to boost Finland’s expertise in and contributions to particle physics research.

Particle physics as a field notoriously involves many aspects of physics, technology, industry, and also finance. Thus, organising particle physics research in such a way that all the different areas are connected is complex and important work. In Finland, this has been solved by founding The Helsinki Institute of Physics (HIP), which has a mandate to co-ordinate the country’s particle physics research related to CERN. One big benefit in this arrangement is that the resources for the related research can be used in an optimal way.

The HIP is Finland’s single point of contact for collaboration with accelerator centres. This is achieved due to the fact that HIP was founded to act as a joint particle physics research institute for all Finnish universities engaged in research concerning large accelerator centres, in particular the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland, and FAIR – the Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research – being constructed in Darmstadt, Germany.

The keys to HIP’s success are simple:

  • By collecting extensive and different expertise and know-how connected to accelerators from several universities or research centres; and
  • By covering a continuum of particle physics research topics from theoretical physics, the analyses of accelerator experiments, experimental set-ups and instrumentation, as well as technological development all the way to commercialisation of spin-off products in collaboration with industry.


HIP’s history began 22 years ago through a merger of three previous institutes in two universities in the Helsinki region. Since then, three other universities have joined.
HIP is currently operated by the Universities of Helsinki and Jyväskylä, Aalto University, and the Universities of Technology of Lappeenranta and Tampere. In addition, the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority became an interim partner for 2018-2019.

All HIP partners have rather different profiles, which leads to a combined research area that is much wider than any single university could achieve with their own resources. The close collaboration of HIP with international accelerator centers (CERN and FAIR) provides an essential addition, which gives a robust foundation for all HIP partner universities and their activities with these centers.

Operation mode

The particle physics research activities in the Institute are divided into programmes, which consist of fixed term projects. Projects are evaluated after the first three years when the continuation for another three year period is decided – HIP research has been agile long before agility became a fashionable term.

Programmes and their projects form the core of HIP activities. All of the programmes involve more than one of our partners, although each programme is clearly strongest in one of the member universities. The dynamics of the Institute is largely generated from the changes or renewal of the projects.

The important decisions that are made with regard to new programmes or projects are done by the Board, where all the partners and personnel have representatives. The Board also decides on the use of funding for the programmes. Each year, the influential Scientific Advisory Board of external experts evaluates the performance of the Institute and provides valuable recommendations to the Board.

Scientific content

The programmes are the backbone of the Institute, and they include those experiments which include Finland’s participation, namely at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) CMS, ALICE and TOTEM experiments, as well as participation in non-LHC experiments for nuclear spectroscopy studies, and in the CLOUD experiment (studying possible links between galactic cosmic rays and cloud formation). HIP participates in the construction of FAIR and in future activities in the facility.

Theory and technology also have their own programmes, with each one divided into projects. The guiding principle here is that there should be no loose pieces. That is, each project is designed to continuously expand the research. Throughout the history of HIP, the leaders of the projects have been extraordinarily devoted and determined.

In addition to the aforementioned programmes, HIP is also involved in the European Space Agency’s (ESA) cosmology missions, which are closely connected to the HIP theory programme. Another important activity involves using CERN and its gigantic amounts of data for educational purposes. Here, HIP participates in the visits of Finnish high school students and their teachers to CERN – in this millenium more than 5,200 students and more than 1,200 teachers, involving more than 360 schools, have visited CERN. Every year, HIP also brings around 15 students from universities in Finland to CERN for a summer job.

The HIP CMS group is particularly active in beyond the Standard Model (BSM) Higgs analyses, and contributes to the very important work on track alignment and Jet Energy Corrections, and to the maintenance of the Level One trigger.

After the discovery of the Higgs boson, the main interest at CERN’s LHC is to find out if BSM physics is within reach, and the above-mentioned research topics are central for the experiments in this area. The HIP CMS group contributed to the assembly and test of silicon pixel detectors, and is doing R&D on a new pixel detector. The group is also involved in the CMS Muon System Upgrade.

TOTEM is a small LHC experiment with a big task: it measures the total cross section for the LHC. The HIP TOTEM group is responsible for the TOTEM physics co-ordination and for the analysis of common topics with CMS. HIP has contributed to the TOTEM Gas Electron Multipliers (GEM), and participated in the upgrade of the ultra-fast silicon detector and diamond based proton time-of-flight detector.

ALICE is a heavy ion experiment. The HIP ALICE group’s main physics analysis concerns studies of the jet transverse structures and flow patterns using a new method developed in the group. The HIP contribution to the ALICE TPC upgrade with the quality control of GEM read-out foils was successfully finished in August. The group also takes part in the maintenance and running of triggers, and participates in the new Fast Interaction Trigger construction.

The construction of FAIR in Darmstadt started in 2017 and is now in full swing. It is expected that phase-0 experiments will start in 2019. The first physics priority of the HIP FAIR group will be studies of the nuclear many-body system at the limit of stability and related nuclear astrophysics problems within the NUSTAR Collaboration. The HIP FAIR group participates in the construction of the Super Fragment Separator, which is needed in the experiment.

Another very successful scientific programme at HIP is the theory programme, which currently includes five projects, mainly on topics related to particle and nuclear physics, as well as cosmology. The success of the programme is demonstrated on one hand by the fact that all but one of the project leaders have been appointed to tenure or permanent positions, and on the other by the fact that two of the project leaders have received an ERC grant during their term.

Connections to industry

In HIP operations, an essential element has been the Detector Laboratory, where relevant technologies for experimental programmes are being developed, tested and applied. The Detector Laboratory is also an excellent education and outreach facility. At the time of writing, 20 students from Nordic countries are studying hands-on instrumentation in the Detector Laboratory for an intense week.

The Detector Laboratory is also a link to industrial applications, including medical imaging detection systems using readout chips developed for the CMS pixel detector together with sensor technology developed by HIP CMS Upgrade group. This is in collaboration with the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority. Regarding the latter, measurements related to final placement of nuclear waste are also being made. Such a project is clearly of general importance.

The technology-related activities actively seek partnerships from industry, and there are several initiatives to improve the connections between Finnish companies and CERN and FAIR. An increasingly strong technical transfer and industrial activation network aims for relatively large industrial returns from CERN. It is, however, obvious that an Industrial Liaison Officer resource would be important, but currently none exist.

HIP – Interacting community

An imminent danger of HIP’s geographically and scientifically extended particle physics research programme is that the focus of the research can be lost, and the activities become scattered. In order not to lose the common goal, meetings of the HIP community are indispensable. Special care must be taken with regard to internal communication. This is one of the focal points for HIP in near future: a communication group is working on different means of spreading information, while personnel are active in the wellbeing group and the programmes organise their own internal meetings. In 2019, the whole HIP community will be gathered in a large ‘town meeting’.

With enthusiastic personnel doing world class particle physics research, Finland’s contribution to physics related to accelerator centers will remain strong moving into the future.

Professor Katri Huitu
Helsinki Institute of Physics
+358 2 941 50520
Tweet @HIPhysics

Laboratory Supplies Directory - Now Live


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here