Connecting CERN and South Asia

18 January 2022
Participants of the SAHEPI-3 workshop discussed applications developed for particle physics to benefit society. Credit: A. Sharma

The decision by CERN in 2010 to introduce a policy of geographical enlargement to attract new Member States and Associate Member States, including from outside Europe, marked a prominent step towards the globalisation of high-energy physics. It aimed to strengthen relations with countries that can bring scientific and technological expertise to CERN and, in return, allow countries with developing particle-physics communities to build capacity. From South Asia, researchers have made significant contributions to pioneering activities of CERN over the past decades, including the construction of the LHC.

The first CERN South Asian High Energy Physics Instrumentation (SAHEPI) workshop, held in Kathmandu, Nepal, in 2017, came into place shortly after Pakistan (July 2015) and India (January 2017) became CERN Associate Member States and follows similar regional approaches in Latin America and South-east Asia. Also, within the South Asia region, CERN has signed bilateral international cooperation agreements with Bangladesh (2014), Nepal (2017) and Sri Lanka (2017). The second workshop took place in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 2019. SAHEPI’s third edition took place virtually on 21 October 2021, hosted by the University of Mauritius in collaboration with CERN. Its aim was to consolidate the dialogue from the first two workshops while strengthening the scientific cooperation between CERN and the South Asia region.

“SAHEPI has been very successful in strengthening the scientific cooperation between CERN and the South Asia region and reinforcing intra-regional links,” said Emmanuel Tsesmelis, head of relations with Associate Members and non-Member States at CERN. “SAHEPI provides the opportunity for countries to enhance their existing contacts and to establish new connections within the region, with the objective of initiating new intra-regional collaborations in particle physics and related technologies, including the promotion of exchange of researchers and students within the region and also with CERN.”

Rising participation

Despite its virtual mode, SAHEPI-3 witnessed the largest participation yet, with 210 registrants. Representatives from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Mauritius, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka attended, with at least one senior scientist and one student from each country. The workshop brought together physicists and policy makers from the South Asia region and neighbouring countries, together with representatives from CERN. Societal applications of technologies developed for particle physics were key highlights of SAHEPI-3, explained Archana Sharma, senior advisor for relations with international organisations at CERN:

“In this decade, disruptive innovation underpinning the importance of science and technology is making a huge impact towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. CERN plays its role at the forefront, whether it is advances in science and technology or dissemination of that knowledge with an emphasis on inclusive engagement. We see the percolation of this initiative with increasing engagement from the region in CERN programmes.”

Participants reviewed the status and operation of present facilities in particle physics, and the scientific experimental programme, including the LHC and its high-luminosity upgrade at CERN, while John Ellis captivated participants with his talk “Answering the Big Question: From the Higgs boson to the dark side of the Universe”.  Sanjaye Ramgoolam topped off the workshop with a public lecture on “the simple and the complex” in elementary particle physics.

SAHEPI has been very successful in strengthening the scientific cooperation between CERN and the South Asia region and reinforcing intra-regional links

Emmanuel Tsesmelis

Country representatives presented several highlights of the ongoing experimental programmes in collaboration with CERN and other international projects. India’s contributions across the ALICE experiment (such as the development of the photon multiplicity detector), its plans to join the IPPOG outreach group, its activities for the Worldwide LHC computing grid, industrial involvement and contributions to CMS – where it is the seventh-largest country in terms of the number of members – were presented. For Afghanistan, representatives described the participation of the country’s first student in the CERN Summer Student School (2019) and the completion of master’s degrees by two faculty members based on measurements at ATLAS. The country hopes to team up with particle physicists outside Afghanistan to teach online courses at the physics faculty at Kabul University, provide postgraduate scholarships to students and involve more female faculty members at ICTP – the International Centre for Theoretical Physics.

Pakistan shared its contributions to the LHC experiments as well as accelerator projects such as CLIC/CTF3 and Linac4 and its role in the tracker alignment of CMS and Resistive Plate Chambers. Nepal representatives described the development of supercomputers at Kathmandu University (KU) and acknowledged the donation agreement between KU and CERN receiving servers and related hardware to set up a high-performance computing facility. In Sri Lanka, delegates highlighted a rising popularity of the CERN Summer Student Programme among university physics students following honours degrees. The country also mentioned its initiative of an island-wide online teacher training programme to promote particle physics. The representative from Bangladesh reported on the country’s long tradition in theoretical particle physics and plans for developing the experimental particle physics community in partnership with CERN. Maldives and Bhutan continue to be growing members from South Asia at CERN, with Bhutan preparing to host the second South Asia science education programme in a hybrid-mode this year.

Strengthening relations
Chief guest Leela Devi Dookun-Luchoomun, the Vice-Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Tertiary Education, Science and Technology of Mauritius, informed the audience about the formation of a research and development unit in her ministry and gave her strong support to a partnership between CERN and Mauritius. The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Mauritius, Dhanjay Jhurry, expressed his deep appreciation of SAHEPI and indicated his support for future initiatives via a partnership between CERN and the University of Mauritius.

The workshop and the initiative to reinforce particle-physics capacity in the region also form part of broader efforts for CERN to emphasise the role of fundamental research in development, notably to advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals agenda. In this regard, discussions took place for a follow-up on the first-of-its-kind professional development programme for high-school teachers of STEM subjects from South Asia, held in New Delhi in 2019, with Bhutan volunteering to host the next event in 2023 pandemic permitting. A poster competition engaged students from South Asia, and three prizes were announced to encourage further participation in big-science projects and towards capacity building in the local regions.

The motivation and enthusiasm of SAHEPI-participants was notable, and the efforts in support of research and education across the region were clear. Proceedings of the workshop will be presented to representatives of the governments from the participating countries to raise awareness at the highest political level of the growth of the community in the region and its value for broader societal development.

Discussions will follow in 2023 at SAHEPI-4, helping CERN continue to engage further with particle physics research and education across South Asia for the benefit of the field as a whole.

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