"When society has problems, the scientist's duty is to find solutions." So says Jean-Pierre, who spent a large part of his scientific career at CERN, recalling that the Web was invented there because there was an unmet need: to find a means of distributing information for new scientific projects involving multiple collaborations. Similarly, the first distributed computing system, the LHC Grid — the precursor of what is now called "cloud computing" — was developed here to store and analyze the masses of data needed to operate the LHC, the world's largest particle accelerator.
Without basic research, there is no innovation, and CERN has always worked at the cutting edge between basic research and concrete applications.
Jean-Pierre began his career there by participating in the 1983 discovery of the W and Z particles, the weak bosuns, or intermediate vector bosons. He was a full-time researcher on the team led by Carlo Rubbia, who shared the Nobel Prize for this discovery in 1984. A long professional and friendly relationship began between the two men. And a few years later, a new problem would once again bring Carlo Rubbia and Jean-Pierre together.
Rubbia, who headed CERN from 1989 to 1994, was reflecting on the future of his scientific activities. ""He drew my attention to the fact that there was a problem with nuclear energy," explains Jean-Pierre, "and that physicists should get involved in finding a solution. The idea was that it seemed difficult to imagine that the planet could be decarbonized without nuclear power, so we looked at the problems that had to be resolved and the possible solutions."
"It's our way of producing energy that needs to be reinvented — especially nuclear energy. Why exclude nuclear energy from research? How could we use nuclear fission in a different way?" Jean-Pierre wondered. "One of the main problems with nuclear energy is the production of long-lived waste. What if we transmuted it in order to remove its radiotoxicity and drastically reduce the danger it posed?"
So Carlo Rubbia, Jean-Pierre and the entire founding team took a look at hybrid reactors. During the Second World War, when the Americans were mobilized on the Manhattan Project, Ernest Lawrence, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, had the idea of making plutonium with the cyclotron he invented. But particle accelerator technology was not yet mature enough to ensure the project's success. This is the avenue that Carlo Rubbia wanted to explore and implement during his work at CERN. The principle of a new type of reactor was then tested in the FEAT experiment, which produced 30 times more energy than the PS accelerator at CERN could provide.
Jean-Pierre, director of the scientific committee at Transmutex, has been at the heart of this scientific and entrepreneurial adventure, playing a major role in the key scientific experiments that have confirmed the Nobel Laureate's intuitions.
Indeed, Jean-Pierre has solid scientific and mechanical knowledge, having been interested in the infinitely small from the beginning of his career, through particle physics, which has already had many practical applications in, for example, medical imaging used in hospitals. He started out as an engineer and then became deeply interested in mathematics, a wonderful tool for understanding particle physics. This has been the common thread running through his scientific career.
He did his doctoral work at MIT in the team of the Nobel laureate Samuel C. C. Ting, with whom he participated in the discovery of the gluon, the "glue" that binds quarks together. He then arrived as a young researcher at CERN, where began his twenty-year collaboration with Rubbia. After several[JC1] years as a professor in the physics department at MIT, he returned to CERN as an advisor to Rubbia, who was director general of the organization at the time.
He then worked on the properties of quark gluon plasma, a rare state of the universe shortly after its birth, some ten millionths of a second after the Big-Bang, in the ALICE experiment at CERN, where he was both leader of the CERN team in the collaboration and coordinator of proton collision physics.
CERN's Large Hadron Collider, the LHC, was built to seek answers to fundamental questions: What is the origin of the mass of elementary particles? What is the origin of dark matter in the universe? Why is the universe made of matter and not of matter and antimatter?
"The big questions that humanity asks itself are in fact physics questions," according to Jean-Pierre.
Author of many landmark experiments at CERN, Jean-Pierre also has a passion for teaching, which he fulfilled at MIT for several years in the physics dep, and then at CERN by supervising many students there.
When Jean-Pierre is not trying to understand the mysteries of the universe and matter, he plays table tennis. He was Swiss champion in 2010 in the doubles category for over 50s. Playing in a team and returning the ball with sometimes surprising trajectories suits his passionate and creative temperament.