Big Science refers to fundamental research conducted in major international cooperation programs. This research, at the limits of our technological capabilities often requires extensive research facilities. The construction of these facilities requires major investments, and is carried out with the assistance of the high tech industry in the participating countries. The maintenance and operation of the research facilities offers opportunities for both large industry firms and small to medium-sized companies to participate. Assignments are largely announced through Calls for Tender, and financed from the contributions of participating countries (through the principle of fair return).
Most important Big Science Projects are:
At CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, physicists and engineers are probing the fundamental structure of the universe. They use the world's largest and most complex scientific instruments to study the basic constituents of matter – the fundamental particles. The particles are made to collide together at close to the speed of light. The process gives the physicists clues about how the particles interact, and provides insights into the fundamental laws of nature.
The instruments used at CERN are purpose-built particle accelerators and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before the beams are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions.
ITER will be the world's largest experimental fusion facility and is designed to demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion power for energy purposes. Fusion is the process which powers the sun and the stars. When light atomic nuclei fuse together to form heavier ones, a large amount of energy is released. Fusion research is aimed at developing a prototype fusion power plant that is safe and reliable, environmentally responsible and economically viable, with abundant and widespread fuel resources.
The ITER project is sited at Cadarache in the South of France. Europe will contribute almost half of the costs of its construction, while the other six Members to this joint international venture (China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation and the USA), will contribute equally to the rest.
The European Spallation Source is one of the largest science and technology infrastructure projects being built today. The facility design and construction includes a linear proton accelerator, a heavy-metal target station, a large array of state-of-the-art neutron instruments, a suite of laboratories, and a supercomputing data management and software development center (click to enlarge technical components image). In the context of its history and future as a scientific organisation, it is however more than an advanced research tool. It is a brand new organisation, being built from the ground up.
The European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), located in Grenoble - France, is a joint facility supported and shared by 19 countries. The ESRF operates the most powerful synchrotron radiation source in Europe, at 6 GeV. Each year several thousand researchers travel to Grenoble where they work in a first-class scientific environment to conduct exciting experiments at the cutting edge of modern science. Biologists, medical doctors, meteorologists, geophysicists and archaeologists have become regular users. Industrial applications are also growing, notably in the fields of pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, petrochemicals and microelectronics.