New leader for UK fusion programme

The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) has appointed plasma-physicist Ian Chapman as its new chief executive. Taking over the role from Steve Cowley on 1 October, Chapman will lead the UK’s magnetic-confinement fusion research programme at Culham Science Centre and operation of the JET fusion device on behalf of European scientists. Aged 34, Chapman is one of the youngest scientist to lead a major research centre and held various roles at Culham prior to the appointment, including head of tokamak science and fusion programme manager. “I hope my profile means that fusion, and its huge potential to give the world cleaner energy, will get noticed,” he says. “Furthermore, I hope my appointment will inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers to make a success of ITER, the international fusion project that in my opinion is the most important experiment mankind has ever done.”

QCD pioneer wins Prange prize

Theorist Frank Wilczek of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US has been named the 2016 recipient of the Richard E Prange Prize and Lectureship in Condensed Matter Theory and Related Areas. He received a $10,000 honorarium and delivered a public lecture, “Some Intersections of Art and Science”, at the University of Maryland, which established the award, in September. Wilczek, who shared the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics, is a pioneer of asymptotic freedom, which underpins quantum chromodynamics (QCD). The Prange Prize honours the late Richard E Prange, whose career at Maryland spanned four decades.

Order of Alfonso X the Wise

Head of CERN’s technology department, José Miguel Jiménez, has been awarded a Spanish civil decoration called the Order of Alfonso X the Wise for his outstanding experience in research and scientific management in particle physics. The ceremony took place at the National Library of Spain, Madrid, on 12 July, in the presence of government ministers.

CERN tours more popular than ever

CERN is Geneva’s top tourist attraction, according to TripAdvisor, welcoming almost 110,000 visitors per year. The laboratory has been listed on the TripAdvisor website since 2012 and currently tops the charts of both the 24 tours and the 28 museums listed for Geneva. CERN has also received a 2016 Certificate of Excellence from the firm in recognition of the quality of its tours and the service it provides to visitors.

CERN’s visitor numbers have soared since the start-up of the LHC in 2008 and the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012, and on 15 July a record number of 755 visitors entered the site (the average is around 400 per day). Recently, the visits service introduced individual guided tours, which are proving to be a great success: every morning the tour slots are fully booked in less than five minutes.

CERN hits the festival circuit

On 28–31 July, CERN continued its efforts to reach new audiences by organising a “physics pavilion” at the annual WOMAD music festival in the UK countryside. A three-day programme of talks and events was on offer, including topics such as “What’s the matter with antimatter?” in addition to shows featuring the Cosmic Piano and a musical piece created from the sonification of LHC data. Activities such as two “Build your own cloud chamber” workshops and a live link-up with the ATLAS visitor centre took festival goers up close and personal with particle physics.

The physics pavilion, which was organised in conjunction with the UK Institute of Physics, the University of Lancaster and the Science and Technology Facilities Council, received more than 3600 visitors and generated considerable media attention. The event culminated in a packed audience, which had queued for 90 minutes to hear about the science of the long-running science-fiction series Dr Who. “I knew we’d got something right when a little girl raised her hand at the end of one session and asked the speaker: ‘How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a physicist?’” says pavilion manager Connie Potter of CERN.

Vintage silicon detectors preserved

The Nikhef laboratory in Amsterdam has teamed up with the Museum Boerhaave in Leiden to preserve some of the earliest silicon detectors. Developed for the “BOL” nuclear research project between 1967 and 1977, 64 silicon units were located inside of a cast-bronze spherical frame that fully surrounded the beam target. The system’s 4π coverage, position measurements for several coincident particles and full-absorption energy determination for hadrons preluded the standard concept used today in collider experiments in particle physics. Although the historical roots of the silicon detectors in the LHC experiments can be traced to this “checkerboard” design, today the position precision of the silicon trackers is at least 50 times better. The BOL inner-detector body, together with silicon-detector units, the associated front-end electronics, read-out boards and multiple-ADC boards, will become part of the Dutch scientific heritage collection in the Rijksmuseum Boerhaave – where they will join the helium liquefier used by Heike Kamerlingh Onnes in 1908 to discover superconductivity and microscopes made by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek in the late 17th century.

10,000th teacher visits CERN

This summer, CERN welcomed its 10,000th school teacher, who was a participant of this year’s International High School Teacher (HST) programme. This three-week-long residential programme, which has taken place every July since 1998, saw 48 teachers come to CERN from across the world. The HST programme aims to increase teachers’ knowledge about the research being carried out at CERN and offers a range of educational resources for use by the teachers to inspire their students’ curious minds.

Strong interactions in Montpellier

The 19th International Montpellier Conference in Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD16) took place in Montpellier, France, on 4–8 July. Around 50 participants took part, with equal numbers of theorists and experimentalists, to discuss all aspects of QCD. This ranged from formal field-theory approaches to confinement, in addition to phenomenological facets such as proton structure, pion form factors, exotic and standard meson spectroscopy, determinations of the strong coupling constant αs, and searches for new physics beyond the Standard Model.

Highlights from this year’s event included a summary of new determinations of αs and the experimental status of the exotic XYZ spectra by the BESIII experiment, with new improved determinations of their masses from QCD spectral sum rules at NNLO. Meanwhile, CLAS, HERA, the LHC and the NICA-SPD project have gained deeper insights on the structure functions and properties of the proton. BESIII has also obtained improved results on light hadron spectroscopy from J/ψ decays and, along with NA62, made new measurements of baryon and pion form factors. New BaBar results on the low-energy cross-sections relevant for the muon g-2 contribution were also presented, confirming previous experimental results. The meeting also saw a formal non-trivial proof of the gauge invariance of the gluon operator A2 among presentations about the non-perturbative aspects of QCD and the quark–gluon plasma. These QCD presentations were complemented by talks from ATLAS and CMS about precise measurements of the top-quark mass, electroweak parameters such as those relevant to the Higgs boson, and searches for new physics.

The 20th International Conference in Quantum Chromodynamics, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last year, will be held in Montpellier on 3–7 July 2017.

Extreme QCD weighs up results

The summer of 2016 will be remembered as a time of some confusion in particle physics. The main event of the summer conference season was the confirmation that a statistical fluctuation at an energy of 750 GeV seen by the LHC’s ATLAS and CMS detectors was indeed just that, and not evidence for a new fundamental particle, as had been hoped by many. It was therefore reassuring to spend three days discussing a theory we traditionally do not understand very well, but where there are copious experimental data and many exciting applications: non-perturbative quantum chromodynamics (QCD).

The “extreme QCD” conference, the 14th conference in the series, was held at Plymouth University in the UK from 1 to 3 August, with 80 participants. Here, “extreme” refers to conditions of high temperature or density that can occur in neutron stars, the early universe or heavy-ion collisions at the LHC and at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) in the US.

Ulrich Heinz of Ohio State University started the presentations by reviewing some of the intriguing and puzzling results that have come out of the LHC, including hints of collective flow behaviour not only in heavy-ion collisions but even in high-multiplicity proton–proton collisions. In other talks, we heard of progress in lattice QCD calculations of thermodynamic quantities, which form the basis of the analysis of heavy-ion experiments, including novel ways of computing the energy-momentum tensor and calculations of transport properties of the quark–gluon plasma. There were also stimulating talks on topics as varied as the eigenvalue spectrum from the Dirac operator in QCD, and new approaches to thermalisation in heavy-ion collisions.

The ever-increasing speed of supercomputers and the continual improvement of algorithms have turned lattice field techniques into a precision tool for physical systems that can be written as a path integral with similar properties to a probability problem. However, there are still classes of problems, such as working at nonzero chemical potential, that require path integrals with complex actions, and thus are almost impossible to solve using standard Monte Carlo algorithms. Delegates heard about recent progress that has been made towards tackling this so-called “sign problem” using methods such as the density of states, complex Langevin and Lefschetz thimble integration.

This was followed by a wide-ranging and thought-provoking panel discussion about the problems and prospects of finite-density QCD. Speakers gave a clear overview of the issues of critical interest to the experimental heavy-ion programmes, and many of the non-perturbative techniques developed to solve QCD are now being applied to other systems. For example, lattice field theory is being used to study the 2D carbon allotrope graphene, in addition to calculating the properties of novel dark-matter candidates from strongly interacting theories.

The next extreme QCD conference will be held in Pisa in June 2017, where further progress on the sign problem and pertinent theory relevant to the heavy-ion programme will no doubt be reported.

Event spotlight

The fourth biennial Workshop on Discovery Physics at the LHC (Kruger 2016) will be held in South Africa on 4–9 December at the Protea Hotel Kruger Gate, which is located 100 m from the entrance to the Kruger National Park. The surroundings and the physics results presented during this workshop will serve to inspire discussions between theorists and experimentalists on the latest LHC and Tevatron measurements, as well as expectations for the future. Attendance will be limited to about 100 participants, and more information can be found at


On 16 August, ambassadors and mission staff from the Group of Fifteen – a group formed in 1989 comprising countries from Latin America, Africa and Asia, with a common goal of enhanced growth and prosperity – visited the ATLAS visitor centre with former collaboration spokesperson Peter Jenni (4th from the left) and young ATLAS scientist Nedaa Asbah (6th from the right).

Following Romania’s ascension to full CERN membership in July, a ceremony was held on 5 September at which the Romanian flag was raised at the CERN entrance. The blue, yellow and red flag joined those of the other 21 Member States of CERN in a ceremony attended by the president of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, the Romanian minister for education and scientific research, Mircea Dumitru, and several other members of the president’s office, the government and academia in Romania.