Per CERN ad astra, Grzegorz Wrochna at CERN Alumni Second Collisions
Grzegorz Wrochna is one of the distinguished CERN Alumni speakers at the upcoming CERN Alumni Second Collisions event (1-3 Oct). We recently spoke to him to find out more about his career trajectory after CERN, how his CERN experience shaped his career and why Grzegorz thinks the CERN Alumni Network and Alumni Collisions can join in meeting difficult global challenges through joint international efforts.
Grzegorz Wrochna: At present I serve as the president of the Polish Space Agency (POLSA). While applying for this position, I was surprised how my career in particle physics and especially my CERN experience, prepared me for the new job. I had an interested in astronomy and space exploration already in my childhood. When the time came to choose my line of studies, I was afraid that astronomy had reached the end of further research possibilities. The range of telescopes was limited by the atmosphere and there was no chance to discover anything new. After some years, technology of adaptive optics was invented to correct for air fluctuations and also the Hubble telescope was placed in the Earth's orbit. But before that, physics was more promising than astronomy. And indeed, particle physics enabled us to understand the Universe's evolution from 1/10 000 000 s after the Big Bang, the creation of elements forming stars and planets, supernova explosions etc.
Therefore, particle physics was my choice, and I came to CERN in 1984 after the third year of my studies. I worked as a summer student on the calibration of the electromagnetic calorimeter for the UA2 experiment in a group led by a young PhD student, Fabiola Gianotti.
In 1991, a day (literally!) after obtaining my PhD diploma, I joined the CMS experiment at CERN. I spent 7 years in Geneva and another 11 years in Warsaw working on the design and the construction of the experiment. I was coordinating the work on the first level muon trigger, which poses two challenges. One was a selection of crucial information from a huge amount of data in real time. Another one was to build radiation hard electronics performing this task. Both turned out very useful for my later “cosmic” career.
I remember participating in a joint CERN-ESA symposium in Garching. It inspired me to make some astronomical observations using methods from particle physics. Together with prof. Lech Mankiewicz we set up a telescope called “Pi of the Sky” observing a pie of the sky in search of optical counterparts of cosmic gamma ray bursts. The innovative idea was to use triggering technique from particle physics to select quickly interesting information from a huge amount of data, contrary to the traditional astronomical approach. The biggest success was the observation of very bright GRB 080319B before the gamma signal from SWIFT satellite, resulting in a publication in “Nature”, jointly with the NASA team.
Today, cooperation with ESA is my everyday job and it turned out that I understand this organisation quite well thanks to its similarity to CERN. In fact, working in an international environment, which I learned at CERN was priceless for me while serving as a director of a research institute, undersecretary of state and now, the president of POLSA.
In fact, the approach to meeting great challenges by joint international effort, effective use of contributions from big and small countries, one-team spirit, are the greatest values of the “CERN atmosphere”. Here I have seen professors and students solving problems jointly, prominent scientists and technicians taking shifts together, friendly cooperating scientists from countries officially at war. Spreading this "atmosphere" through the world is so needed today, when we face difficult global challenges. I believe that the CERN Alumni network and especially the Alumni Collision events could help very much in this mission.
Save the date (1-3 October) registration will open soon for CERN Alumni Second Collisions, where you will have the opportunity to network with inspiring CERN Alumni and other partners, take part in virtual visits of CERN's experimental facilities and much more!