Oscar Barbalat, electronics engineer and knowledge transfer pioneer at CERN, died on 8 September, aged 87. Born in Liège, Belgium, in 1935, he joined CERN in 1961, working initially for the PS-RF group. At the time, the PS beam intensity was still below 109 protons/pulse and the beam control system was somewhat difficult to master, even though the operations consisted mainly of striking internal targets at 24 GeV/c. The control system became increasingly complex when the PS slow-resonant extraction system of Hugh Hereward was put into service. A machine study team of expert accelerator physicists (Dieter Möhl, Werner Hardt, Pierre Lefèvre, Aymar Sörensen and Oscar Barbalat) tackled this issue, with Oscar writing a substantial FORTRAN simulation program to understand how the extraction efficiency depended on its numerous correlated parameters.
In the 1970s, the PS Division set out to digitise the controls of all PS subsystems (Linac, PS Booster, RF, beam transport systems, vacuum system, beam observation, etc.). These subsystems used independent control systems, which were based on different computers or operated manually. Oscar was tasked with devising a structured naming scheme for all components of the PS complex. After producing several versions, in collaboration with all the experts, the fourth iteration of his proposed scheme was adopted in 1977.
To design the scheme, Oscar used the detailed knowledge he had acquired of the accelerator systems and their control needs. His respectful and friendly but tenacious way with his colleagues enabled him to explore their desires and problems, which he was then able to reconcile with the needs of the automated controls. Oscar was modest. In the acknowledgements of his naming scheme, he says: “This proposal is the result of numerous contributions and suggestions from the many members of the division who were interested in this problem and the author is only responsible for the inconsistencies that remain.”
On Giorgio Brianti’s initiative, following the interest of the CERN Council’s Finance Committee, the “Bureau de Liaison pour l’Industrie et la Technologie” (BLIT) was founded with Oscar in charge. His activity began in 1974 and ended in 1997 with his retirement. His approach to this new task was typical of his and CERN’s collaborative style: low key and constructive. He was eager to inform himself in detail and he had a talent for explaining unclear technical aspects to others. It helped that he was well educated with broad interests in people, science, technologies, languages and cultural and societal purposes. He built a network of people who helped him and whom he convinced of the relevance of sharing technological insights beyond CERN.
After more than 20 years developing this area, he summarised the activities, successes and obstacles in “Technology Transfer from Particle Physics, the CERN experience 1974-1997”. When activities began in the 1970s, few considered the usefulness of CERN technologies outside of particle physics as a relevant objective. Now, CERN prominently showcases its impact on society. After his retirement, he continued to be interested in CERN technology transfer, and in 2012 he became a founding member of the international Thorium Energy Committee (iThEC), promoting R&D in thorium energy technologies.
No doubt, Oscar is the pioneer of what is now Knowledge Transfer at CERN.
We will miss him.
His colleagues and friends