Shaping Atlas’ Future – Finding new ways for R&D collaborations between CERN and external partners

Wintersemester 2012 / 2013 

Executive Summary 

Initial Situation 

Founded in 1954, CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Re- search, is one of the world’s largest and well known centers for scientific research and fundamental physics. 

ATLAS is one of the major physics experiments conducted along the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the CERN facilities in Geneva. It is also a global R&D network involving CERN as well as 175 universities and laboratories from 38 countries. 

In order to facilitate knowledge/technology exchange with external partners (industrial firms as well as other commercial and non-commercial organizations), ATLAS has designed a collaborative platform named ATLAS Technology Lab (ATLAB). The major goal of this platform is to use it for co-developing technologies necessary for the upcoming ATLAS Experiment upgrades while at the same time enabling external partners to work on technologies which are useful for their own product range as well. 

Despite the fact that ATLAS has been involved with about 400 industrial partners during the initial construction period, the new challenge is that ATLAB is no longer relying on traditional buyer (ATLAS) and supplier (external partner) relationships. ATLAB now strives for a new form of collaboration with external partners to be treated as equals when developing a new technology. 

Project goal 

The main goal of the project was to develop a long-term strategy, based on a profound analysis of R&D collaboration best-practices, for improving the effectiveness of ATLAB R&D collaborations with industrial partners and research institutions. 

Procedure and methodology 

As a first step, it was essential to assess in depth both the current situation at ATLAB as well as best-practice recommendations by others. This task was achieved as follows: 

CERN publications were reviewed and interviews with key R&D personnel at ATLAS/CERN were conducted to both complement the initial information and expand the focus of the project towards a much broader set of issues and potential solutions for the task at hand. 

Interviews were conducted with third party organizations to not only address critical issues identified in the first step, but also to seek out further issues that might arise. In this first stage of interviewing, questions were designed to be rather broad with a strong focus on identifying the challenges involved in collaboration between industry and research organizations. 

Secondary sources of data such as publications of related fields, i.e. technology-transfer or literature on university-industry collaborations, as well as best-practice case studies and guidelines were reviewed to put the interview findings into the right perspective. 

After having gained a sound understanding of both ATLAB’s current practice as well as best-practice by others, Key Issues were identified along the five stages of a typical collaboration. 

To solve these Key Issues, a second interview phase was conducted. In contrast to the first phase of interviews, though, these in-depth conversations were now deemed to tackle the Key Issues outlined in the previous step by providing specific guidance on how potential solutions can be implemented, thereby closing the gap between current practice at ATLAB and best-practice in the field. 


A portfolio of specific measures has been developed to improve ATLAB’s overall collaboration process. They can be grouped into three clusters: 

Attracting and Identifying Potential Partners
The intention of this phase is to increase the pool of potential applicants for an ATLAB project or membership, whereas the design of the recommended solutions should support the fit of potential partners from the very beginning. The focus lies, on one hand, in reinforcing the communication of attractive benefits ATLAB could offer and, on the other hand, on events to reach the whole bandwidth of potentially interesting partners.

Gatekeeping: The Road to an ATLAB Membership
Gatekeeping refers to the selection process and criteria that lay out different possible pathways for interested companies for becoming an ATLAB member.

ATLAB Ecosystem
A lively ATLAB Ecosystem represents the final goal of the solution portfolio. Thereby, the basic idea is that each member of this ecosystem affects and is affected by the others, creating a constantly evolving relationship. 

In the implementation recommendation the individual measures were prioritized according to impact and costs to facilitate subsequent decision-making.

Cooperation Partner

  • European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) Genève 23
    CERN CH-1211

  • Contact Person
    Dr. Markus Nordberg
    T + 41 22 767 7377

Student Team

  • Andreas Keplinger
    Daniel von Gaertner
    Elke Möstl
    Fabian Foelsch
    Georg Terlecki-Zaniewic
    Jennifer North
    Jozef Strezenec
    Katharina Haramia
    Michaela Naszada
    Sylwia Majdanik
    Tea Stricevic
    Jozef Strezenec
    Katharina Haramia
    Michaela Naszada
    Sylwia Majdanik
    Tea Stricevic