Before the COVID-19 pandemic, some scientists were expected to cross the world several times a year for conferences and collaboration meetings at the cost of thousands of dollars and a sizeable carbon footprint. COVID-19 put the scientific community on a steep learning curve regarding new forms of online communication and collaboration. This was particularly true for high-energy physicists, over 12 thousand of whom from 70 different countries work at CERN, the European Centre for Nuclear Research in Geneva, Switzerland
CERN Courier reports that these researchers decided to do something about this. They ran a 3 day online workshop Sustainable High Energy Physics (HEP) in June 2021 that attracted more than 300 participants from 45 countries to discuss how the lessons learned in the past two years might help HEP transition to a more sustainable future.
New Model for Meetings
The first day of the workshop focused on how new forms of online interaction could change scientists’ professional travel culture. Shaun Hotchkiss (University of Auckland) stressed in a session dedicated to best-practice examples that the purpose of online meetings should not simply be to emulate traditional 20th-century in-person conferences and collaboration meetings. Instead, the community needs to rethink what virtual scientific exchange could look like in the 21st century. This might, for instance, include replacing traditional live presentations by pre-recorded talks that are pre-watched by the audience at their own convenience, leaving more precious conference time for in-depth discussions and interactions among the participants.
The second day highlighted social-justice issues, and the potential for greater inclusivity using online formats. Alice Gathoni (British Institute in Eastern Africa) powerfully described the true meaning of online meetings to her: everyone wants to belong. It was only during the first online meetings during the pandemic that she truly felt a real sense of belonging to the global scientific community.
The third day was more technical, dedicated to existing sustainability initiatives and new technologies.
The workshop ended by drafting a closing statement that calls upon the HEP community to align its activities with the Paris Climate Agreement and the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.