A team setting up instruments for the detection of high energy cosmic rays by the Pierre Auger observatory in Argentina

19 September, 2019, 5:30 pm

The Growth of Large Collaborations in Science

Professor Alan Watson

Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall, University of Leeds

All Welcome

Alan Watson was Professor of Physics at the University of Leeds from 1984 until 2003. He was instrumental in the creation of the Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina in 1999, which gathered data leading to major discoveries in cosmic-ray astronomy. It covered an area of 3,000 km2, with 1,600 particle detectors, placed at 1.5 km intervals.


Last year, Professor Watson published a paper along with 4000 other co-authors describing various observations that were made following the detection of the coalescences of two neutron stars. Such vast numbers of authors on a scientific paper are by no means exceptional and the current record for a single paper stands at 5154. By drawing on his own experiences of working in the fields of high-energy cosmic rays, astrophysical neutrinos and gravitational waves, Professor Watson will trace the growth of such large collaborations in science – particularly in physics. No specialist knowledge of these areas of physics is required however, to appreciate the important questions that Professor Watson will explore, and which have become of increasing interest to sociologists of science – such as – ‘why are these collaborations are necessary?’, ‘how they are formed?’, ‘how do they work?’, ‘what are their international aspects?’, ‘how does a young person survive and develop in such an environment?’, ‘what questions of diversity arise?’ and the all important issue of ‘how authorship is decided’.