Imperial College celebrates Kibble’s 80th birthday

Tom Kibble, one of the founding fathers of the Standard Model, turned 80 last December. To celebrate this milestone and Kibble’s extraordinary contributions to theoretical physics, a one-day symposium was held on 13 March at Imperial College, London.

Kibble has made seminal contributions to the understanding of the mass-generating mechanism for elementary particles via symmetry breaking. Indeed, his profound papers of 1964 and 1967 provided key foundations for the Standard Model and inspired the search for the Higgs boson. He has also made significant contributions to the study of the dynamics of symmetry-breaking near phase transitions with diverse applications including to structure formation in the universe and vortices in helium-3.

The symposium profiled these and other aspects of Kibble’s long scientific career. The two themes that resonated throughout the day were Kibble’s extraordinary scientific achievements coupled with his humility.

The tenor of the meeting was set in the morning by Neil Turok, director of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, who described Kibble as "our guru and example". He discussed Kibble’s pioneering work on how topological defects might have formed in the early universe during symmetry-breaking phase transitions as the universe expanded and cooled. Wojciech Zurek of Los Alamos National Laboratory continued with this theme, surveying analogous processes within the context of condensed matter systems and explaining the famous Kibble-Zurek scaling phenomenon. Turok noted that while defects have been found everywhere in the lab, they are still to be seen in the universe, although many physicists remain hopeful.

The afternoon’s events were concluded by Jim Virdee of Imperial College and the CMS experiment, who summarized the epic quest of finding the Higgs boson at the LHC. His talk surveyed the history of the LHC experiments and brought a rapt audience up to date with the latest data from CERN, all of which support the case that the new boson discovered last year is, indeed, a Higgs boson. At the end of the talk, there was a standing ovation for Kibble that lasted several minutes.

In the evening, Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg gave a stunning keynote presentation to a capacity audience of 700. With no visual props, he talked eruditely on symmetry breaking and its role in elementary particle physics. He emphasized the role played by the three 1964 papers by Robert Brout, François Englert, Peter Higgs, Gerald Guralnik, Carl Hagen and Kibble himself. He also emphasized the significant impact of Kibble’s sole-authored 1967 paper that, among other things, explains the mechanism whereby the W and Z boson get mass while the photon remains massless.

At the banquet, the UK Minister of Science, David Willetts, praised Kibble’s contributions to fundamental knowledge and the important ongoing role of Imperial College and the UK more generally. Ed Copeland of the University of Nottingham and Kibble’s most prolific collaborator, profiled Kibble’s scientific leadership, vision and generosity. Robert Kibble recollected that while his father was doing his amazing work, family life continued as normal – although holiday destinations did strangely seem to coincide with venues for physics conferences. Frank Close of Oxford University concluded the banquet speeches by summarizing the significance of Kibble’s contributions to the Standard Model, again highlighting how his 1967 paper inspired Abdus Salam and Weinberg to realize that symmetry breaking could be applied to a marriage of the weak and electromagnetic interactions.

Jerome Gauntlett, Imperial College.


Ceremony marks completion of ALMA telescope

In the vast Atacama Desert of the Chilean Andes, an official ceremony marked the inauguration of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) (CERN Courier October 2007 p23). More than 500 people attended the 13 March event, which signalled the completion of all major systems of the giant telescope and the formal transition from a construction project into an observatory.

A select group, including guest of honour Sebastián Piñera, the President of Chile, had the opportunity to visit the telescope, located 5000 m above sea level. The assembly of ALMA’s antennas was recently completed, with the last batch of seven out of the final total of 66 antennas currently being tested before entering into service. The telescope has already provided unprecedented views of the cosmos using only a portion of its full array (CERN Courier November 2011 p13).

The ALMA array consists of 54 antennas with 12-m dishes and 12 smaller 7-m dishes, which work together as a single telescope. The signals from the individual antennas are brought together and processed by the "ALMA correlator" supercomputer. The 66 antennas can be arranged in different configurations, where the maximum distance between each one can vary from 150 m to 16 km.

ALMA is a partnership between scientific organizations and funding bodies in Europe, North America and East Asia, in co-operation with the Republic of Chile.