Islamabad – Pakistani scientists are trying to improve their presence on the international scale and gain valuable scientific and technical expertise in the process.
The country is vying for the status of associate member of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), the world’s biggest particle physics laboratory.
Pakistan’s collaboration with CERN began with a cooperation agreement in 1994. The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) has led the country’s linkage with CERN with support from the National Centre for Physics (NCP).
Now Pakistan is trying to improve its cooperation with the international laboratory.
“There is a serious effort (going on) to formalize the relationship (between Pakistan and CERN) by being an associate member of CERN,” said Dr Hafeez Hoorani, director of research at the National Centre for Physics (NCP), which is actively involved in Pak-CERN collaborations.
CERN is situated at the France-Swiss border near Geneva. It has 20 member states, hosts thousands of scientists, engineers and researchers from all around the world and is involved in a number of experiments that investigate theories of Physics. Among its achievements is development of the Internet, which was done by Tim Berners Lee at CERN in 1989.
Hoorani said a task force from CERN will visit Pakistan to assess the status of basic sciences and research and development in the country before granting the membership. Associate members have to pay CERN a certain fee that is calculated on the basis of the member country’s Gross Domestic Product, he said.
Pakistan, one of CERN’s 37 “non-member states with co-operation agreements,” has already been contributing monetarily to the CERN experiments and it has also reaped some benefits from the contributions, as well.
In 2003, a protocol enhanced Pakistan’s total contribution to the LHC program to US$ 10 million. In return, electronics made in Pakistan have been used in the detectors at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) for important discoveries and Pakistani engineers and technicians are working on the maintenance of the LHC at present.
In 2004, the NCP became an LHC Computing Grid (LCG) Node and started receiving data from the LHC experiments. The data has so far been used by 32 MPhil students, three PhDs and seven ongoing PhDs for their degree research.
Over the past three years, researchers at NCP have used the data to publish 188 papers in international journals, with CERN’s permission, according to the NCP’s 2012 Annual Report.
The research experiments at CERN are not designed to provide everyday benefits for Pakistan in the short-term, but associate member-status would allow Pakistan’s tech industry to apply for commercial tenders to manufacture components for CERN, Hoorani said.
The PAEC personnel who work on various problems at CERN would receive exposure to good technical practices. It would also create job opportunities for Pakistani researchers at the global laboratory, Hoorani said.
However, the biggest boon resulting from the membership, NCP scientists think, would be the scientific learning.
They suggest Pakistani researchers will get access to an “invaluable learning component that cannot be learnt anywhere else” because the LHC is a one-of-its-kind particle accelerator.
“Our experimental accelerator at NCP cost around Rs550 million to set up,” Hoorani said. “It has not been able to produce as many theses for students as we have done through the LHC grid data.”
Finally, NCP scientists think the multi-cultural, multi-lingual work environment at CERN would impart important lessons in social tolerance for Pakistani researchers and help them build a better image of their own country.
“Some Pakistani scientists have said that the experimental accelerator available at NCP is not state-of-the-art,
Hoorani said some Pakistani scientists have said that the experimental
“No one can challenge LHC as an obsolete resource,” Hoorani said.
Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, a famous Pakistani physicist and a critic of struggling domestic scientific efforts, said Pakistan’s collaboration with CERN is not about theoretical physics but about the preparation of equipment used for certain aspects of CERN, which would relate to the microscopic details of a very large experiment there.
“In no way does this (collaboration) mean that we are on par with China, India the European countries or the United States,” Hoodbhoy said.
Hoodbhoy said the collaboration is, however, important because it could enable our brightest students prepare for scientific experiments happening at the world scale.
“The good thing is that it gives us an entrance into one of humanity’s biggest enterprises but we should not overemphasize it,” Hoodbhoy said. “We must admit that it is a very, very modest attempt.”