I have, eventually, got my visa, my jabs and my plane ticket, so I am off to Mumbai for the Lepton Photon particle physics conference
I travel a lot as a particle physicist, but I am not very widely travelled. At present most trips are back and forth to Geneva, but even before the Large Hadron Collider at CERN induced that semi-regular commute I mostly stayed in Europe, with the occasional trip to North America or Japan. Basically the richer and more industrialised bits of the world, I guess. Perhaps that isn’t so surprising. Even I would not put major particle physics facilities at the top of the wish-list in the early stages of developing an economy.
That said, particle physics would feature quite soon. The activity has lots of economic benefits, and is an essential part of any national research infrastructure which attempts to address big questions about the nature of the place we live.
Plus, the subject by necessity is very collaborative. As Rolf Heuer, Director General of CERN, said in his final address at the European Physical Society meeting, the E in CERN now stands for “everyone” not just European. To be at the energy frontier at the moment, everyone goes to CERN (at the moment). And to carry on doing science at this frontier in future will require global collaboration.
India has been part of this for a long time, of course. In fact, as was pointed out in a recent letter to the Guardian, the famous Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose gave his name to the generic class of particles with integer angular momentum – Bosons – of which the Higgs is a still-hypothetical example, but the W and Z bosons (and the photon) are well established. See this post for more on that.
The Tata Institute in Mumbai has a long history of involvement in fundamental science. In fact several of my friends and colleagues have visited or worked there, and I have collaborated with scientists from the institute for many years, though never visited it myself. This year it is hosting the Lepton Photon conference. Hence my visa and immunisations and a sudden realisation that I have been jetting about inside a bit of a cocoon most of the time.
Getting the visa would not have been too hard, except that I have only one passport and I use it every week, so handing it over to the Indian High Commission for a few days was a bit of a problem. I haven’t had an injection since I was at school, but I was very brave, so the nurse at the Royal Free told me. And I don’t need malaria tablets, which was a relief.
Lepton-Photon is a different kind of conference from ICHEP or EPS, in that there are no parallel sessions. The talks are all plenary “rapporteur” talks; a great place to get an overview of the field. I have been so absorbed in Standard Model physics at the LHC for the past year, I feel the need to hear from my colleagues in neutrino physics, astroparticle physics and so on.
I have been to a couple of these meetings before (they happen every two years). In 1999 at Stanford, USA, I gave a talk on photon structure (it doesn’t really have a structure, but in an interesting way). The thing I remember most from that meeting though is hearing Saul Perlmutter describe the supernova results and the mounting evidence for Dark Energy in the cosmological standard model. To be honest, I also remember the Napa Valley tour and the excellent wine selections we had for the lunches and dinners on the Stanford campus.
The other one I went to was Uppsala, Sweden in 2005. Here I gave the talk on experimental studies of the strong force (Quantum Chromodynamics, which holds the quarks together inside the proton, and hold protons and neutrons together inside the nucleus). Gavin Salam (as seen in Colliding Particles) was giving the theory talk on the same subject. I remember being asked many times whether I was related to Ian Butterworth (ex research director of CERN) and thought it odd that no-one asked Gavin if he was related to to Abdus Salam (Nobel-prize-winning theorist). As far as we know, neither of us are, anyway. I also remember very long queues in bars for the toilet because apparently (some) Swedes don’t believe in gender-specific toilets, thus making men suffer along with women in an admirably egalitarian fashion without actually providing any more capacity. Also the fish was brilliant, especially for breakfast. A herring breakfast even beats English bacon-and-eggs in my opinion.
So there, you see the depth of my analysis of cultural differences. Wine, toilets and breakfast. Look out for more from Mumbai (maybe). We may also have some new results from the extra LHC data taken between EPS and Lepton Photon. And with any luck, I will catch up on some non-LHC particle physics too.
PS I seem to have had a bit of a thing with flags off the back of boats. I will try and get an Indian one to complete the set.