John Ellis is honoured by the Queen

John Ellis, now Clerk Maxwell Professor of Theoretical Physics at King’s College London, is to become a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to science and technology, announced in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for 2012. Well known throughout the particle-physics community, John has been a familiar face at CERN, where he worked for 33 years before retiring in 2011. One of the UK’s most influential and eminent particle physicists, he provides an important bridge between theoretical and experimental domains and is also widely admired for his efforts to involve non-European nations in CERN’s scientific activities.

Also honoured this year is Michael Sterling, chair of the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council, who has been awarded a knighthood for his services to higher education, science and engineering.


Leon Lederman receives the Vannevar Bush award

In a ceremony on 3 May, the National Science Board of the US National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded Leon Lederman the 2012 Vannevar Bush award. This award, established in 1980, is named after the presidential science adviser who helped create the NSF. It honours exceptional, lifelong leaders in science and technology who have made substantial contributions to science, technology and public policy.

Lederman is currently director emeritus of Fermilab, having been director from 1979 to 1989. In 1988 he received the Nobel Prize in Physics, together with Melvin Schwartz and Jack Steinberger, for their work that led to the discovery of the muon-neutrino. He has also made many contributions to the public understanding of science and the development of scientific talent, for example as a founder and the inaugural resident scholar at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, a three-year residential high school for the gifted.


Wim Leemans wins Advanced Accelerator Concepts prize

Wim Leemans of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory received the 2012 Advanced Accelerator Concepts (AAC) prize at the 15th meeting of the AAC Workshop, held in Austin on 10–15 June. He was awarded the prize for "outstanding contributions to the science and technology of laser-plasma accelerators".

Leemans, who heads the Laser Optical Systems Integrated Studies (LOASIS) programme at Berkeley, is a pioneer in the field of laser wakefield acceleration. He has also demonstrated that laser-plasma accelerator technology is practical, through a series of key advances. He now leads the project to build a compact, laser-plasma wakefield accelerator, BELLA, which in a single stage only 1 m long will accelerate an electron beam to 10 GeV (CERN Courier January/February 2010 p8). The award is well timed to coincide with the imminent completion of the project.

The prize, which has been awarded three times since its inception six years ago, was made possible by a donation from Bergoz Instrumentation of St Genis-Pouilly, France, manufacturers of electronic instruments for high-energy particle accelerators.


INR awards the 2012 Markov prizes

The Institute for Nuclear Research (INR) of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow has awarded the 2012 M A Markov Prize to Nikolai Krasnikov and Boris Zhuikov, both of the INR. They received the awards at the 10th Markov Readings in Moscow on 12 May.

Krasnikov, one of the Russian leaders in quantum field theory and particle physics, is recognized for his contribution to the development of the theory of particles and quantum fields and elaboration of the research programme at the LHC. Zhuikov, who is head of the radioisotope complex at INR, is honoured for his elaboration of methods for producing special isotopes for medicine and new hardware.

The M A Markov Prize, which is awarded for essential contributions to theoretical and experimental studies in the field of elementary particle physics, nuclear physics and neutrino astrophysics, was established by INR in memory of Moizey Alexandrovich Markov (1908–1994), who was one of the founders of the institute. The Markov Readings are held on 13 May each year to commemorate his birthday.


Quantum theory under scrutiny in Malta

On 24–27 April the University of Malta hosted Quantum Malta 2012, the first international conference on quantum mechanics organized by the newly established EU COST Action "Fundamental Problems in Quantum Physics" (CERN Courier June 2011 p32). The aim of the Action is to co-ordinate and promote research in the foundations of quantum theory throughout Europe and the rest of the world. Quantum Malta 2012 was dedicated to exploring the most recent achievements in the field, in which four research topics characterize current research.

• Quantum theory without observers. This line of research explores how to formulate an observer-free quantum theory, describing measurements as they should be: physical processes having the same nature as all other physical processes, without any extra ad hoc assumptions. In this way, all puzzles with the standard quantum theory – such as the measurement problem and Schrödinger’s Cat paradox – naturally go away. The most famous proposals are Bohmian mechanics, collapse models and the many-worlds interpretation.

• Effective descriptions of complex systems. Here, investigations focus on the process by which phenomenological classical equations describing macroscopic phenomena – such as heat or charge transfer – emerge from the underlying microscopic quantum dynamics. There have been major advances in recent years, partly in trying to assess to what extent quantum features remain important, when moving from the microscopic to the macroscopic domain, before giving way to classical behaviour. This could revolutionize understanding of charge transfer in photosynthetic systems, with possible technological breakthroughs in finding more efficient ways for energy production.

• Quantum theory meets relativity. This is one of the most fascinating – and at the same time difficult – research topics in theoretical physics. People believe in the correctness of both quantum theory and special relativity, yet there is a deep, unresolved tension between the two theories. The problem is how quantum effects such as non-locality and the instantaneous collapse of the wave function can cope with a relativistic universe. So far, no satisfactory solution has been found. In addition, it is still unclear how quantum mechanics and gravity can be combined in a unified description of the universe.

• From theory to experiments. Recent experimental investigations have been particularly active in exploring the limits of validity of quantum theory. Perhaps the most important issue is to assess if the superposition principle breaks down in the mesoscopic/macroscopic domain. Experiments are proliferating, using different techniques, to create macroscopic quantum superpositions. Research is also active in testing symmetry principles in quantum mechanics, such as the Pauli exclusion principle, CP violation, CTP violation and the like.

Quantum Malta 2012 was held in conjunction with the conference, "Black Holes: From Quantum To Gravity", organized by another COST Action, "Black Holes in a violent universe". Three joint sessions, each hosting two keynote speakers, were organized to foster synergies between the community working on quantum mechanics and its foundations, and the community working on black holes and astrophysics in general.

The cosmological implications of black holes were described by Joe Silk of Oxford University. In particular, he looked at the effect black holes might have had, for example, on the cosmic microwave background, and also considered how much further observations can take the current understanding of how black holes work in reality. Markus Arndt of the University of Vienna gave an overview of matter-wave experiments with molecules and nanoparticles, which aim at testing the superposition principle of quantum mechanics. He covered the roles of coherence, decoherence and of gravity in these experiments. Gian-Carlo Ghirardi of the University of Trieste reviewed spontaneous wave-function collapse models, as well as the issues related to non-locality and the tension between quantum mechanics and relativity.

Experiments at CERN’s LHC are searching for "micro" black holes; Greg Landsberg of Brown University gave a detailed update of these searches as well as a report on the progress in finding the Higgs boson. Peter Biermann of the University of Alabama discussed possible avenues forward in quantum gravitation, with a focus on how different foundational principles affect the resulting theory. The transition from the microscopic to the macroscopic world was the subject of an overview by Jean Bricmont of the University of Leuven. In particular, he focused on explaining how macroscopic irreversibility can be explained starting from the underlying reversible microscopic dynamics.

• Quantum Malta 2012 was organized by Angelo Bassi (University of Trieste), Detlef Duerr (Ludwig-Maximilian University, Munich) and Jackson Said (University of Malta). The event was entirely sponsored by COST. The next meeting of the COST Action "Fundamental Problems in Quantum Physics" will be help in Bielefeld on 22–26 April 2013. For further information about Quantum Malta 2012, see: www.um.edu.mt/science/physics/astro-ph/quantummalta2012.