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Questions and answers with Andrei Seryi

17 August 2016
Inventing the Instruments of Future Science is the roughly translated Russian title—and the underlying message—of the accelerator physicist’s new book, Unifying Physics of Accelerators, Lasers and Plasma.

Andrei Seryi is a physics professor at Oxford University and the director of the John Adams Institute for Accelerator Science, a research center associated with the physics departments at Oxford, Royal Holloway University of London, and Imperial College London. A native of Russia, Seryi received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Novosibirsk State University and his PhD at the Budker Institute of Nuclear Physics.

Andrei Seryi

Seryi was at SLAC from 1999 to 2010, where he led the establishment of the Facility for Advanced Accelerator Experimental Tests. In 2008 he was elected as an American Physical Society Fellow “for his leadership in developing beam delivery systems for linear colliders and his contributions to the theory of ground motion, vibration, and feedback for accelerators and particularly linear colliders.”

Seryi’s involvement in many accelerator projects “has given him a unique perspective from which to examine the big picture” of accelerator R&D, writes physicist Sekazi Mtingwa, whose review of Seryi’s new book, Unifying Physics of Accelerators, Lasers and Plasma (CRC Press, 2016), appears in the August issue of Physics Today. Mtingwa notes that the book falls short when discussing the multibend achromat technology “that is driving what many are calling the new fourth-generation synchrotron radiation source,” but he concludes that Seryi’s “thoughtful and delightful text … provides solid, intuitive discussions of what are often quite erudite concepts.”

Physics Today recently caught up with Seryi to discuss the book and its adaptation of TRIZ, an innovation methodology invented in Russia that he hopes will be used to “[shorten] the path to inventions for problems and contradictions we can find in the future.”

PT: What inspired you to write this book?

SERYI: When I came to the John Adams Institute, where we combine research with training, I started to think about how we could stimulate creativity and inventiveness in our graduate students. So I studied how that is done in other areas and rediscovered the TRIZ method for myself.

Rediscovering TRIZ gave me a lot of inspiration, and I started to think about applying it to accelerator science, lasers, and plasma—areas our students need to master to be successful in their research. [The idea] built up gradually. First, a single lecture. Then, an idea for a one-week course for the US Particle Accelerator School (at Fermilab), which I discussed with USPAS director Bill Barletta.

Just a couple of months after that discussion with Bill, CRC Press editor Francesca McGowan knocked on my office door to ask for directions to her meeting and, by the way, if I would like to write a book. That moment sparked the idea that the course for USPAS, which still needed to be prepared, could lead to creating a book. And the work started, on the course and then on the book, in partnership with Elena Seraia, who created several hundred illustrations for the book, making it visual and much more accessible.

PT: Who is the primary target for this book and what is the book’s primary message?

SERYI: I believe the book can be useful for almost anyone interested in science and inventiveness. Together, the first and the last chapters describe the history of accelerator inventions, describe TRIZ, and introduce its incarnation tailored for science, Accelerating Science TRIZ (AS-TRIZ). The last chapter elaborates on inventiveness in science and on the application and further development of AS-TRIZ.

But, of course, the primary target audience is students and postdocs, who are starting to work on advanced concepts of accelerator science. The book will give them concrete knowledge and will also make them more inventive through this robust methodology of inventiveness. If indeed I would need to formulate the primary message of the book in one phrase, I would perhaps say that the book tells the reader, “You can invent,” and it gives the knowledge and methods to support that message.

PT: Can you explain the TRIZ method?

SERYI: TRIZ, a Russian acronym for Theory of Inventive Problem Solving, was developed by Genrich Altshuller based on his analysis of many thousands of patents. The four key findings of TRIZ are as follows: 1) The same problems and solutions appear again and again but in different industries; 2) There is a recognizable “technological evolution” path for all industries; 3) Innovative patents, which are typically just a quarter of the total number, used science and engineering theories outside their own industry; 4) An innovative patent uncovers and solves contradictions.

As you perhaps already see, the first finding does indeed stimulate teaching several areas of physics (like accelerators, lasers, and plasma) in the same book. And the last one is indeed the backbone of the method: TRIZ offers 40 inventive principles together with tables that show what inventive principles were successfully used in the past to solve a particular physical contradiction, thus shortening the path to inventions for problems and contradictions we can find in the future.

Still, the TRIZ principles and contradiction matrix was created for engineering. In order to be applicable for science, some of the principles needed to be adjusted, or new principles need to be added—we call that extension AS-TRIZ. We use TRIZ and AS-TRIZ throughout the book to create bridges of understanding between different areas of physics, pointing to examples of inventions done in the past, and motivating inventions of the future.

PT: What has been the most surprising feedback you’ve received about the book?

SERYI: Writing the book was a thrilling experience, because one never knows how the community will take the book. When a lot of positive comments started to arrive from my colleagues in science, I got emboldened to contact the engineering community and ask the editor of the TRIZ Journal to consider reviewing the book. I was really pleased to read in the detailed review [in the March 2016 issue] that the book was considered “important, insightful and visionary.”

I was also happy to accept the critiques that some of the chapters are not sufficiently simple and do not follow the intended “back of the envelope calculations” approach. I also learned from TRIZ experts that many other methods in the TRIZ toolbox were left unmentioned.

PT: Where do you see accelerator technology in 10 years, and what impact will that development have on both research and commerce?

SERYI: The new technology will certainly be based on a synergy of conventional accelerators, lasers, and plasma physics: for example, compact light sources based on laser–plasma acceleration, or ion sources for particle therapy, or compact free-electron lasers. I see in the future that national research facilities (i.e., synchrotron radiation sources and free-electron lasers) will compete and coexist with a plethora of smaller instruments that would be much more affordable and therefore more widespread in universities, hospitals, and industrial companies. I very much hope that this book could help to get to the next novel state of accelerator technology sooner. I hope that it will have tremendous impact on research and commerce, perhaps comparable with the impact of personal computers when they came and started to coexist and compete with large computers.

PT: What books are you currently reading?

SERYI: Actually, there is unfortunately almost no time to enjoy reading. The reason is that just after the book was published, we started to work on translating it into Russian. That work took another nine months; the Russian translation has just been published, at the end of June. It has a slightly different title, roughly translated as “Inventing the Instruments of Future Science.” And because Elena made enormous efforts for translation, making new illustrations of inventive principles based on science examples, and writing new text for some chapters, we are now coauthors. Moreover, I’ve been busy teaching the USPAS course, using the book in the class—the students as well as the teacher enjoyed the class enormously!

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