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Strong Axis for Research and Teaching

Çiğdem İşsever, first academic director of the Oxford/Berlin Research Partnership for the BUA, talks about her new position and her professional experiences in Oxford

Feb 11, 2021

Çiğdem İşsever became the first academic director of the partnership for the BUA.

Çiğdem İşsever became the first academic director of the partnership for the BUA.
Image Credit: DESY

Together, the three Berlin universities, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, and Oxford University want to support excellent, innovative, and interdisciplinary research partnerships that go beyond institutional boundaries and international borders. The Oxford/Berlin Research Partnership was formed in 2017, and under a new governance structure created with the establishment of a joint Centre for Advanced Studies, Çiğdem İşsever, an elementary particle physicist, became the first academic director of the partnership for the BUA. She is lead scientist at the Deutsches Elektronen Synchrotron (DESY) in Zeuthen and has been conducting research in the field of experimental high-energy physics as a professor at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin since fall 2019.

The position of academic director was newly created to strengthen the partnership's governance structure and promote the representation of academic interests. We sit down with Çiğdem İşsever to talk about her professional connection to Oxford and discuss some ideas she’d like to incorporate into the Oxford/Berlin Research Partnership.

Ms. İşsever, what are you looking forward to most about your new position as academic director?

I’m looking forward to the interaction with the different institutions and people involved. The first month has already proved to be quite turbulent. I’m still finding my feet in the alliance, and I’m also getting to know lots of people. That's very interesting.

What are your connections to Oxford?

I spent 15 years in Oxford – a pretty long time really. After my first post-doc in the USA, I moved to Oxford as a so-called “Departmental Lecturer” in 2004 and received my title of professor in 2014. I eventually arrived as a professor at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin in the summer of 2019. I remain a visiting professor at the University of Oxford.

As an experimental high-energy physicist, I was a member of the ATLAS group in Oxford. ATLAS is a high-energy physics experiment at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva with almost 3,000 members. It has research groups all over the world, including at the university in Oxford. The ATLAS detector is located at one of the collision points of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, where two proton beams traveling in opposite directions collide. The LHC collision energies are the highest in the world that can be generated in a particle accelerator, and that’s what makes these experiments so interesting. They give us a glimpse into the very core of matter and structures of the vacuum. The ATLAS detector is a very complex instrument and as big as a cathedral. I was searching for microscopic black holes when I first started out in the ATLAS experiment. Discovering these objects at the LHC would have provided the first evidence for the existence of additional spatial dimensions. However, the black holes could not be detected and these null results provided insight into the size of extra spatial dimensions predicted in many theories. This is how my career began in the ATLAS collaboration at CERN.

My current research focuses on the newly discovered Higgs boson, an elementary particle discovered at the LHC in 2012. On this basis, I search for new particles and make measurements on the Higgs boson itself.

In your opinion, what's so special about the BUA and the partnership?

Alongside the excellent affiliated institutes of Berlin, the city itself is what makes the BUA so special. Berlin is an international city – and that makes the partner institutions very attractive. Berlin can compete with other locations on a world stage. This international dimension and research potential are among the reasons that drew me to the city in 2019 and are what make Berlin so attractive. The fact that Oxford University is also a very international university makes it a good fit. With Berlin and Oxford joining forces, they can form a strong axis for research and teaching. The vibe is already very good and I find that promising and attractive.

What types of projects do you want to tackle?

Of course, I still have to sit down and speak with many of the actors. I want to find out where the best opportunities lie for cooperation between Oxford and Berlin and focus on just a few, but well-positioned projects. There are so many institutes and research areas involved. The biggest impact from this partnership may well come from projects focusing on methods and algorithms that are transferable between different departments and institutes, for example, artificial intelligence or quantum technologies. Just to give you one example: Elementary particle physicists analyze massive amounts of data. These techniques can also be applied in medicine or in social sciences. Artificial intelligence, algorithms, databases, for example, come to mind. Interdisciplinarity is important to me.

Furthermore, there are opportunities for cooperation in the field of digital technologies, social sciences, medicine, pandemic research, and global health. These are research areas in which the Oxford University is also very interested. Another topic that I will be focusing on closely, in addition to research, is programs for students, for example, joint training courses. A strong and long-term cooperation between the partner institutions must also involve students and junior researchers. The exchange and networking should not only take place via the established researchers, but also via the students and junior researchers. The Oxford/Berlin Partnership provides a unique opportunity for exchange at this level.

Prof. Dr. Çiğdem İşsever studied physics at the University of Dortmund, where she earned her PhD in natural sciences. She then assumed a postdoctoral position at the University of California Santa Barbara in the USA for three years before moving to the University of Oxford, where she completed her habilitation and became a professor of elementary particle physics. In the fall of 2019, she moved to Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. In her academic career to date, Çiğdem İşsever has already received various research grants, including funding as a top researcher with an ERC Advanced Grant from the European Research Council.