Computing equipment donated by CERN catalyses the creation of a centre of excellence for high-energy physics in Palestine

Thomas Hortala

In 2019, 56 computing servers were shipped from CERN’s computing centre to An-Najah National University in Nablus, Palestine. Two years later, this donation is sparking the creation of a Centre of Excellence for high-energy physics at An-Najah, which aims to become an important institute for the field in the region.

“The computing equipment forms the nucleus of the new centre we’re building,” explains Ahmed Bassalat, assistant professor at An-Najah and ATLAS physicist. The servers, which include more than a thousand processor cores and eight disk servers providing about 400 terabytes of storage, have started featuring in high-energy physics lectures given at the university and will support graduate students researching in the fields of artificial intelligence, algorithm development and machine learning for experimental physics. Beyond the educational scope, the servers will fulfil the local scientific community’s computational needs and will be used to handle tasks for pixel trackers in particle detectors.

Collaboration with other physics research institutes will be furthered thanks to a formal association with the ATLAS experiment that is currently being negotiated. An-Najah University has been no stranger to CERN and its experiments since the signature of an International Cooperation Agreement in December 2015. Since then, the relationship between the two entities has borne fruit through the university’s involvement with ATLAS, the placement of Palestinian summer students at CERN and, most notably, CERN’s sponsorship of the yearly Winter School of High-Energy Physics in Palestine (WISHEPP). The school, which has also benefitted from strong support from the Université Paris-Saclay, has frequently attracted CERN physicists and has become a key event for the field in the region.

With the construction of the infrastructure supporting the servers completed, the physics community in Palestine is looking forward to making the most out of the vast computing power that the servers offer. “We hope to expand soon”, smiles Ahmed. “For countries with limited resources, international collaboration like the one with CERN offers unhoped-for opportunities”.