Pakistan & CERN: Top physicists appreciate research in Pakistan

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Jun 24, 2013.

Islamabad – Pakistan is apparently in a strong position to achieve associate member status at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), Steve Myers, the director of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) particle accelerator, said on Sunday.

“Countries that apply for associate member status must have scientific infrastructure that is compatible with what we like to do at CERN,” Myers told The Express Tribune. “And that’s clearly the case in Pakistan. That there is the infrastructure for the country to benefit from being an associate member of CERN.”

Myers is on a two-day visit to Pakistan to attend the opening of the 38th annual International Nathiagali Summer College (INSC), a gathering of scientists and researchers from around the world that has been held every year in Nathiagali since 1976. The 2013 INSC, which is organised by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), will bring 300 scientists from all over the world. The college’s first week is devoted to Accelerator Physics.

Myers said other countries such as Ukraine and Brazil have also applied for associate membership. But Pakistan’s case is probably the most advanced among the countries applying, he said.

He said equipment from an old CERN accelerator, the Large Electron-Proton collider, is expected to be transferred to Quaid-e-Azam University soon and CERN felt it was a good time to send people over to Pakistan to talk about accelerator physics at the INSC.

Along with Myers, Fernando Quevedo, the director of the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), is also in Pakistan for the summer college.

The Abdus Salam ICTP has been a sponsor of the INSC, which like the centre from Trieste, Italy, was a brainchild of Dr Abdus Salam, Pakistan’s only Nobel Prize winner in Physics.

The two experts visited different universities and research organizations in Islamabad on Sunday. They said they were “very impressed” by the research work being carried out in Pakistan.

“I think I was very impressed by the different institutions we visited,” Quevedo said. “The institutions are investing in the right way in both fundamental physics and applied physics.”

He said ICTP has a special relationship with Pakistan because of Salam, the centre’s founding father. Pakistan is one of the countries that participate in a wide range of ICTP programmes each year, Quevedo said.

He said Pakistani scientists and researchers have regularly taken part in ICTP’s associate programme, where scholars spend three months at ICTP in Italy to research in the best working conditions before returning home.

“That prevents them from leaving physics or leaving their counties,” Quevedo said. “That was the first idea that Abdus Salam had, to avoid brain drain,”

Quevedo said the ICTP is going to hold a college of Plasma Physics at the National Centre for Physics in November 2013 and another on LHC Physics next year.

Talking about the potential of Pakistani scientists, he said there is no reason to feel that Pakistan cannot have as good scientists as any other countries.

Myers said he had found Pakistani physicists and technicians working at the LHC to be “highly qualified, very motivated and hardworking.”

He said associate membership will open doors for Pakistan in terms of opportunities to land contracts and apply for staff positions, fellowship and visiting research associates.

Responding to a question about whether Pakistan’s collaboration would only be limited to equipment, he said several Pakistani physicists were working on the LHC experiments and the work can be expanded in the future.

He said CERN is putting some effort into medical applications using accelerator and detector physics and there could be more collaboration with Pakistan in that area.

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