High-energy physics flourishes in Latin America

11 July 2019

The 10th edition of the CERN–Latin- American School of High-Energy Physics (CLASHEP) hosted 75 students from 13 to 26 March in Villa General Belgrano in the Argentinian province of Cordoba. CLASHEP is a biennial series that takes place in different Latin-American locations. Since the first school in 2001, there has been a dramatic increase in the involvement of Latin-American groups in experimental HEP, including collaboration in the ALICE, ATLAS, CMS and LHCb experiments at CERN. The schools have played an important role in fostering this increased interest and participation in HEP in the region, as well as reinforcing existing activities and training young scientists.

The first schools in 2001 and 2003 took place in Brazil and Mexico, two countries in Latin America that already had substantial involvement in experimental HEP, followed by Argentina in 2005. María Teresa Dova of the Universidad Nacional de La Plata (UNLP) recalled that this first Argentinian school was a “strong catalyst” for Latin-American groups joining the LHC experimental programme. In due course, both UNLP and the Universidad de Buenos Aires formally joined ATLAS with support from the national funding agencies ANPCyT and CONICET.

The fourth school in Chile in 2007 gave unprecedented visibility for CERN and the LHC in a country which, until then, had no experimental HEP activity. Claudio Dib, the local director of the school, remarked that this was a key event in reaching agreements for the inclusion of Chile in the ATLAS experiment, and CERN and ATLAS representatives who were present were personally introduced to the authorities of the universities and the national funding agency, Conicyt. Following the fifth event in Colombia, in 2009, where there were also constructive meetings with the national funding agency and universities, the school returned to Brazil for a second time in 2011.

The Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú celebrated the seventh school in Peru in 2013 with a special supplement of the university magazine dedicated to the work of local school director Alberto Gago’s group, which participates in the ALICE experiment and in neutrino experiments at Fermilab. Gago commented that the impact of the school had been “impressive and far beyond [his] expectations”. Similarly, discussions connected with the eighth school in Ecuador in 2015 were very important in stimulating interest in HEP within the universities and government agencies. This advanced the plans for the Escuela Politécnica Nacional and the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) to join the CMS collaboration, supported by the national funding agency, Senescyt. USFQ’s rector Carlos Montúfar Freile described the school as a milestone for physics in Ecuador. In 2017 the school returned to Mexico for a second time, with strong interest and encouragement from the national funding agency, CONACyT.

There has been a dramatic increase in the involvement of Latin-American groups in experimental HEP

The 75 students attending this year’s school were of 17 different nationalities and more than 30% were women. Most came from universities in Latin America, while 15 were from European institutes. Lectures on HEP theory and experiment were given by leading scientists from both sides of the Atlantic, with special lectures on gravitational waves and cosmological collider physics by prominent Argentinian physicists Gabriela González (spokesperson of LIGO when gravitational waves were discovered in 2016) and Juan Martín Maldacena (winner of the 2012 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics). In addition to 50 hours reserved for plenary lectures, parallel group discussions were held for 90 minutes most afternoons. CERN Director-General Fabiola Gianotti took part in a lively Q&A session by video link.

The school also received visits from senior representatives of the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba (UNC), including Gustavo Monti, who is president of the Argentinean Physical Society, and Francisco Tamarit, a director of the national research council CONICET.

Building on the tradition of the last few schools in the series, outreach activities were organised at UNC in the city of Cordoba. María Teresa Dova from UNLP, again the local director of the school, explained experimental particle physics to a general audience, and Juan Martín Maldacena, who was awarded an honorary doctorate, talked about black holes and the structure of space–time.

The next CLASHEP is set to take place in 2021.

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