Week 6: Super Collision - The Shuttleworth Gathering at CERN

Inside the LHC... well, above it

Anti-matter, neutrons and protons, Higgs Bosons and lots and lots of physicists. This is the stuff CERN is made of. One grand assembly of brains and machinery, bustling about an underwhelming complex straddling the French and Swiss border. All working towards one grand purpose: to make pioneering scientific discoveries, and work out how the universe began.

While we may not have quite such cosmic purposes, it was a fitting location for the bi-annual gathering of the worldwide ranks of Shuttleworth Foundation Fellows and staff. Coming together for the first time under one roof (with some of us meeting for the first time in person), the week was spent exploring and sharing our various areas of work – from open data (Rufus Pollock) & open educational resources (Mark Horner, Kathi Fletcher), to citizen cyberscience Francois Grey), peer-to-peer learning (Philipp Schmidt), and justice for indigenous intellectual property (Kabir Bavikatte).

The CERN landscape

Each Fellow (and ex-fellows Steve Song, Andrew Rens and Mark Surman) led a session called ‘Dogfood’, aimed at testing out your own practice with all the other fellows present, which for some of us newer Fellows was a chance to introduce our work and try and tap into the hivemind for feedback, inspiration and development of ideas. And what a hivemind.

To be among such company, of dedicated, passionate, innovative thinkers and practitioners was humbling. But most pleasing (aside from the very encouraging feedback and reaction to my presentation about Livity Africa), was perhaps to see the clear linkages between all the different Fellows’ work: from which you can begin to make out a galaxy of possibilities for collaboration and conspiration.

SF Fellows and staff by Lake Geneva during day 2 dinner: Mont Blanc in the background

Bookmarked by tours of the LHC (mindboggling, especially straight off a 16 hour journey), the anti-matter chamber (led by a self-styled anti-matter guru and Dan Brown nemesis), the ATLAS control centre (a bit like Star Trek, but with more nerds), and UNISAT (United Nation’s satellite imagery monitoring unit), every evening we struck out for a different culinary experience, where discussions continued over micro-gastronomy, fish from Lake Geneva, and fondue (sadly on the day I missed due to Chilean volcanic ash cancelling my flight from Cape Town).

Thanks to Francois Grey: our host, fixer and CERN scientist, whose ceaseless quest for scientific progress – involving driving the wrong way round the CERN complex’s roundabouts at high speed – sadly didn’t manage to reverse time.