Valencia welcomes the world of particle physics

27 October 2014

For the first time since its inception, the International Conference on High Energy Physics went to Spain this year.

In the field of elementary particle physics, the International Conference on High Energy Physics (ICHEP) is the largest meeting organized at a global level. Having started in 1950 at Rochester in New York, it was for several years known simply as the “Rochester Conference”. Organized by Section C11 (Particles and Fields) of the International Union for Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP), the conferences have since taken place across the world, in recent years in Philadelphia (2008), Paris (2010) and Melbourne (2012), for example.

For its 37th edition, ICHEP went to Spain for the first time, where it took place at the Valencia Conference Centre on 2–9 July. The selection of Spain as host of the prestigious conference is recognition of the country’s progress in this field of fundamental knowledge. Its importance for Spain was clear from the presence at the inaugural session of Carmen Vela, secretary of state for research, development and innovation from the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, as well as several other academic and regional government representatives. ICHEP 2014 attracted a total of 967 scientists from 53 countries, with the largest delegation of 193 participants coming from Spain. The main international laboratories in the field were well represented, many at a high level: the directors of CERN, DESY, Fermilab, KEK and the Institute of High Energy Physics, Beijing, attended the conference, and participated actively in several sessions.

After the formidable impact in the media of the announcement of the discovery of the Brout–Englert–Higgs (BEH) boson at CERN on 4 July 2012, on the eve of the opening of the previous ICHEP in Melbourne (CERN Courier September 2012 p53), it was somehow unrealistic to hope that an announcement or confirmation of a result of similar outstanding scientific consequences would happen in Valencia. In this field of science, spectacular milestones alternate with less glamorous phases in which levels of knowledge are consolidated. In many cases, the construction of complete sets of precision measurements, and a deep understanding of them, reveal the way towards progress, and indicate the right roads of exploration to follow. In this respect, and given the large variety of data sets, analyses and interpretations of results presented, ICHEP 2014 did not disappoint.

Following what has become common practice in the ICHEP series, the programme in Valencia consisted of parallel and plenary sessions. In the 15 parallel sessions, 538 experimental and theoretical communications were presented, covering most of the areas in the field. A summary of the results discussed in these sessions was then given in 55 talks in the 42 plenary sessions that took place in the second half of the conference. The scientific programme was completed with 18 additional talks, as well as a display of more than 200 posters summarizing the work of young researchers.

The results of the experiments at CERN’s LHC and Fermilab’s Tevatron – studying proton–proton, proton–lead, lead–lead and proton–antiproton collisions at high energy – were presented in detail, those from the LHC being based on all of the data collected up to the start of the first long shutdown early in 2013. In particular, the dynamical features of the processes in these energy ranges (the QCD domain), the static and dynamical properties of the BEH boson, the properties of the top quark, the extremely rare decay modes and very small branching ratios of hadrons containing a b quark, and appropriate comparisons with the Standard Model figured in many of the presentations.

Although, the Standard Model explains most of the precise measurements collected up to now at a variety of experimental facilities, it is accepted widely that there are still plenty of questions to be answered – a situation that underlies the need to modify and extend the current paradigm to cure the detected weaknesses. Among the most notorious of these is the lack of understanding of the nature of dark matter – an intriguing form of matter that cannot be explained by the quarks and leptons of the Standard Model, and so points towards new physics. The capability of new models, such as supersymmetry, theories with extra dimensions, technicolour, etc, to overcome this and other conceptual and observational difficulties must be evaluated in the coming years, when the availability of new sets of data become a reality, in particular from the upgraded LHC.

Celebrating CERN’s 60th anniversary

On the occasion of CERN’s 60th anniversary, the ICHEP 2014 organizing committee thought it appropriate to schedule a special session to highlight the contributions of this unique organization to the acquisition of scientific and technological knowledge in basic science, as well as the important role that CERN has played in fostering international collaboration, in the worlds of  academia and education, in the training of researchers, engineers and technicians, and in activities dealing with knowledge and technology transfer to the industrial and business communities.

Speaking first, Rolf Heuer, CERN’s director-general, stressed the relevance of basic research in fostering technological development and innovation in a global and open worldwide environment, and sent encouraging key messages to the youngest sector of the audience. Lyn Evans, former head of the LHC Project, then gave a lively recollection of the technical developments and immense challenges involved in bringing the LHC construction project to a happy conclusion. He was followed by Sergio Bertolucci, director of research and computing technology, who reviewed CERN’s current activities and some of its past achievements, as well as the ongoing tasks related to future options following the road map defined by the European Strategy for Particle Physics approved by CERN Council in 2013. The many ongoing technical activities related to the LHC – which will start a new phase of operation at higher energy and luminosity in the spring of 2015 – were then presented by Miguel Jiménez, head of the technology department. Finally, Manuel Aguilar of CIEMAT summarised the successful evolution of high-energy particle physics in Spain, and the important role that CERN has played in this context (see “CERN and Spain”, below).

The presentation and discussion of new and relevant results in neutrino physics, obtained in a diverse set of experimental facilities, was another highlight of the conference, together with many topics in astroparticle physics and cosmology. The recent results obtained at the BICEP2 telescope at the South Pole – which might provide the first experimental evidence of cosmic inflation – and the current status of the analysis of the data collected by the European satellite Planck, together with the theoretical implications of these measurements, deserved particular attention. This special session on cosmology and particle physics, which was a major highlight of the conference, was closed beautifully with a splendid lecture by Alan Guth, one of the distinguished proponents of the theory of cosmic inflation.

The status of projects at different stages of design and prototyping for the construction of new large scientific installations (linear and circular colliders, neutrino beams and detectors, underground laboratories for the study of neutrinos and dark-matter candidates, detector arrays for high-energy cosmic rays, satellites and other space platforms, etc), and the regional strategies and road maps, are topics that were included in another interesting session, leading to ample discussions. The programme of the parallel sessions also included presentations dealing with the formidable effort that, at the global level, is carried out in R&D activities on detectors, accelerators, data acquisition and trigger issues, and computing technologies. Last but not least, the role and relevance of outreach and the relations between science, technology, industry and society were analysed and discussed.

The plenary sessions provided summaries of the contributions presented in the parallel sessions, as well as a concluding synthesis of the contents of the conference and on the future of the field. As emphasized in the closing talks by Young-Kee Kim of the University of Chicago and Antonio Pich of the University of Valencia, a wealth of new data has led to considerable advances in many areas since the previous ICHEP two years ago. However, it became equally clear that, in the years to come, there remains plenty of challenging work to be done to answer the many intricate and fundamental open questions that the field still faces. One subject that will trigger further attention in future is the possible connection between the scalar field responsible for electroweak-symmetry breaking (the BEH boson) and the scalar field that might be at the origin of cosmic inflation in the early stages of the universe (the inflaton). The solution to this and many other fascinating questions is awaiting new experimental data and revolutionary theoretical ideas. With all of these ingredients, this area of fundamental knowledge is clearly facing a challenging and exciting future.

In addition to the scientific programme, participants at the conference were able to appreciate an exhibition of posters concerning the situation of women studying physics in Palestine, while another exhibition showed the connection between art and scientific research. CERN’s travelling exhibition “Accelerating Science”, displayed at the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias in Valencia’s town centre, received plenty of attention from the general public. The conference also had impressive media coverage in the press, the main broadcasting networks and in national and regional television channels. Around 15 journalists from the most relevant media in science communication attended sessions, reported on the main events and interviewed numerous participants.

A highlight of the social programme was the marvellous concert on the theme of “Science and music working for peace”, given by the Orchestra and Chamber Choir of the Professional Conservatoire of Music of Valencia. This was accompanied by the projection of images – many unpublished – relating to the history of CERN and the development of particle physics in Spain. Finally, the conference banquet at the wonderful Huerto de Santa María provided a brilliant ending for the social programme.

• The Spanish institution in charge of organization was the Instituto de Física Corpuscular (IFIC), Joint Centre University of Valencia – CSIC (Council for Scientific Research). There was also ample sponsorship from several domestic and international institutions.

CERN and Spain

This year has seen celebrations of the 30th anniversary of the return of Spain to CERN in November 1983, after a long period of absence that began in 1969. Many generations of Spanish researchers, engineers and technicians have been educated and trained in the international, highly competitive and technological CERN environment, At the same time, numerous companies and industrial firms in Spain have become acquainted with a diverse range of techniques, procedures and innovations, many of them at the forefront of technology and with remarkable potential. It is appropriate to recognize not only the nurturing effect that CERN has had in the positive evolution of science in Spain – particularly the experimental and technological components – but also the importance for CERN of having Spain among its member states. Today, Spain contributes approximately 8.5% to the CERN budget and, beyond this substantial support, brings a well-trained and motivated community that is eager to take part in the CERN adventure.


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