Sunday, April 25, 2010

More travel notes from the North-East

After Kolkata, the North-East weathered the storm of two talks by yours truly, in Shillong and in Guwahati on Particle Physics in the era of the LHC. Speaking of storms, Meghalaya of course lived up to its name with lovely showers on the way and of terrific climate. I heard on the news that the country was in the grip of a heat-wave, which skirted around Shillong. Guwahati was having unseasonable heavy rain. Strongly recommend these wonderful areas for all who want to travel. I am not alone in these sentiments. There was a group of 4 IITM Professors, including my old teacher Prof. Krishniah who were there with their families on LTC.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

On the road in Kolkata

So here I am in hot, sunny and humid Kolkata, visiting the Saha Institute where I give a talk tomorrow. Got here early in the morning yesterday and met some friends. We learnt that there was to be a talk on Operation Green Hunt and UAPA and some other issues by Goutam Navlakha and Arundhati Roy in the University and we went off there. There were about a thousand people there. Impressive to see how much interest there is in the general population on these subjects. Off to Shillong and Guwahati later this week. I am reading `Roadrunner' by Dilip D'Souza while on the road. Strongly recommend. He talks about Kartik Kalyanram whose blog is here. His mami Sundari Mahadevan was my father's late brother's wife. Small world indeed.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle Editorial on the LHC

For fear of link-rot, I am giving the entire editorial here.

April.03 : After the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva earlier this week reported collisions of beams of protons — each of which was accelerated in a 27-km ring that runs deep underground across the Swiss-French border region at “centre of mass” energy — three and a half times higher than the highest energy reached before — scientists at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research announced that the world had now entered an unprecedented era of exploration of the sub-nuclear domain.

This will cast light on many mysteries, including the nature of the so-called “dark matter” which is known to exist in galaxies and without which they cannot be held together. Also, theories of elementary particle physics advanced by a generation of scientists will now be validated or falsified. This considerable achievement results from decades of planning, construction, and work on precision engineering and highly advanced accelerator technology coupled with gigantic detection apparatus married to phenomenal grid-computing facilities. The discoveries of recent centuries show that in order to get to the basic building blocks of matter, one needs ever-increasing energies to probe matter at the smallest length scales. The LHC experiments, by reaching unprecedented energies, will throw open the windows to discovery. They will help go beyond what scientists know as the “standard model” that describes the familiar electromagnetism, weak interactions that lead to radioactive beta decay, and the strong interactions that keeps quarks inside protons and neutrons. The Higgs particle, termed the “God particle” required for the consistency of the standard model, might yet be one of the early spectacular discoveries at the LHC. Furthermore, when the collider replaces protons by ions of lead, which are very heavy, it is expected that conditions that must have prevailed just after the “Big Bang”, from which the entire cosmos arose, will be replicated on earth. These can be studied at high precision under controlled conditions.
The LHC could not have come into being but for the foresight and dedication of hundreds of scientists across the world and the funding from a consortium of European member states. Like all great voyages, the LHC has had its share of tragedies, with a technician’s life being lost in an accident, and the helium leak in 2008 that set it back over a year. While the field of particle physics might appear arcane, its allure captures the fancy of the young and the enthusiastic in science. The spinoffs are immense: nuclear medicine without which cancer treatment would be impossible arose from nuclear physics, of which particle physics is the descendant; and indeed, the world knows CERN as the birthplace of the World Wide Web. India can be justly proud of its observer status at CERN and of the immense contribution made by scientists from its leading research institutions and universities in the project. Companies like BHEL, ECIL, Kirloskar and Compton-Greaves have won international tenders to supply top-of-the-line components to the LHC, in a commendable example of industry-research partnership. This could not have happened without the foresight of pioneers like Homi Bhabha, the father of particle physics research in India, who believed that the destiny of modern nations can be shaped only by a commitment of its men and women to a life of science. It is worth recalling the words of Robert Wilson when asked if particle physics research had any defence implications: “It has only to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture. It has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things we really venerate in our country and are patriotic about. It has nothing to do directly with defending our country, except to make it worth defending.”