Virgo to search for gravitational waves

The Virgo interferometer for the detection of gravitational waves, located at Cascina near Pisa, was inaugurated on 23 July. The frequency range of Virgo - from 10 to 6000 Hz - coupled with very high sensitivity, should allow detection of the gravitational radiation produced by supernovae and the coalescence of binary systems in the Milky Way and in outer galaxies, for example in the Virgo cluster.

The Virgo detector consists of a Michelson laser interferometer with two orthogonal arms 3 km in length. Multiple reflections between mirrors located at the extremities of each arm extend the effective optical length of each arm up to 120 km. In order to be sensitive only to gravitational waves, the whole interferometer is completely isolated from the rest of the world, with each of the optical components isolated via an elaborate 10 m high system of compound pendulums. To avoid perturbations due to residual gas the light beams propagate under ultra-high vacuum, and the two beam pipes, each 3 km long and 1.2 m in diameter, form one of the largest ultra-high vacuum vessels in the world. The interferometer has already passed its initial running tests and within the next few months the working of all of the component systems will be verified.

"The mirrors, which are made with nanometer precision, and its sophisticated mechanical systems make Virgo one of the most sensitive instruments in the global network, which also includes the American LIGO, the Anglo-German GEO and the Japanese TAMA," said Adalberto Giazotto, Virgo's scientific coordinator.

The Virgo project is the outcome of more than 10 years collaborative research and development between the National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN) in Italy and the National Scientific Research Centre (CNRS) in France. It currently operates in the context of the European Gravitational Observatory (EGO), a consortium created by INFN and CNRS. Italy's minister for education and research, Letizia Moratti, and the French minister for research and new technologies, Claudie Haigneré, attended the inauguration ceremony.

Llewellyn Smith to head UK fusion research

Former director-general of CERN, Chris Llewellyn Smith, has been appointed as director of the Culham Laboratory, UK, where the UK Atomic Energy Authority carries out a national research programme, as well as operating the Joint European Torus (JET) facilities on behalf of its European Partners under the European Fusion Development Agreement. Llewellyn Smith was CERN's director-general from 1994 to 1998, during which time the Large Electron Positron collider was successfully upgraded and the Large Hadron Collider was approved. He then became president and provost of University College London between 1998 and 2002. As director of Culham, where he succeeds the late Derek Robinson, who died in December 2002, Llewellyn Smith will be responsible for developing and implementing the strategy for the UK's fusion research programme.

JINR celebrates 50 years of high-energy physics

This year sees the 50th anniversary of the start of high-energy physics in Dubna, Russia, at what was to become the Laboratory of High Energies (LHE). The foundation of the laboratory was initiated by the P Lebedev Institute of Physics, where in 1944 Vladimir Veksler, later the first director of the LHE, discovered the principle of phase stability, which underlies cyclic accelerator performance at high energies.

Under Veksler's guidance, the specifications of a new particle accelerator - the synchrophasotron - were worked out in 1949/50, and in 1953 the Electrophysics Laboratory (EPL) was set up to conduct research in high-energy physics at the machine. On 26 March 1956, EPL became part of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR) and was named the Laboratory of High Energies. The synchrophasotron began operation in April 1957 with a proton energy of 10 GeV. At the time it was the largest accelerator in the world and reached the highest energies until the start-up of CERN's proton synchrotron in 1959.

The research programme at the LHE was worked out and realized under the guidance of Veksler, Moissey Markov and Ivan Chuvilo, who later became the second director of the LHE. The experiments were aimed primarily at the study of deep elastic scattering processes at the lowest and highest momentum transfer, as well as at multiparticle production in hadron-nucleon interactions.

Aleksander Baldin, the third director, later introduced a new trend with research into the interaction processes where the quark structure of nuclei is revealed - relativistic nuclear physics (RNP). The start of RNP research at the LHE took place with experiments on the production of cumulative particles in nuclear reactions.

The development of the synchrophasotron made it possible to accelerate deutrons in 1971. With the introduction of a new injector - a linear accelerator at 20 MeV - a unique system, used for the first time at an accelerator, of electron beam and laser sources of highly charged ions and a polarized deutron source provided physicists with beams of light nuclei up to sulphur, as well as beams of polarized nucleons and deutrons. The polarized deutron beam of record energy and the polarized proton beam, together with the unique quasimonochromatic polarized neutrons obtained from beams due to stripping, and the polarized proton target, have opened a new way to research in spin physics.

In 1993 the nuclotron, the first superconducting accelerator of nuclei, was put into operation. During development of the nuclotron, whose design and construction was headed by Baldin, unusual solutions were found in acceleration technology and techniques in superconducting magnets. These were later developed in larger accelerator centres elsewhere.

Today the LHE, headed by Aleksander Malakhov, is an accelerator centre for a wide range of research in the energy interval where the transition from the effects of the nucleon structure of the nucleus to the demonstration of asymptotic behaviour in nuclear interactions takes place. The laboratory has international scientific co-operation with CERN, many physics centres in Russia, JINR member states, centres in the US, Germany, Japan, India, Egypt and other countries.

•An international seminar dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the V M Veksler and A M Baldin Laboratory of High Energies (VBLHE) at the JINR will be held in Dubna on 2-4 October 2003. The seminar is organized by the JINR with the support of the Russian Federation Ministry of Atomic Energy, the Ministry of Industry, Science and Technology, the Russian Foundation for Fundamental Research and the International Scientific and Technical Centre. For more information, see www.lhe.jinr.ru, or e-mail:main@lhe.jinr.ru or cekpet@lhe.jinr.ru.

Catherine Cesarsky to head up the IAU

The General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), meeting in Sydney, Australia, has appointed the ESO director-general, Catherine Cesarsky, as president elect for the period 2003-2006. The IAU is the world's foremost organization for astronomy, uniting almost 9000 professional scientists on all continents. Cesarsky, seen here with Ron Ekers of the Australia Telescope National Facility and the new president of the IAU, is the first female scientist to receive this high distinction. She will become president of the IAU in 2006.