Thirteen years after receiving the observer status, India’s central government has given the green signal for India’s associate membership to CERN. The Union Cabinet approved the funding that will allow India to get an associate membership and now it is the CERN council that will go through all the formalities to formalize this decision.
India is involved with CERN since early 80s and started participation in detector building for different experiments. It received CERN observer status in 2002 and Indian teams are currently actively involved in ALICE and CMS experiments. India has made an enormous contribution in the past few years; a large number of institutions, both research bodies and universities, have taken a lead in ALICE while the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research at Mumbai and the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics contributed significantly to CMS. In addition, it should be noted that India had also participated in the building of the LHC as the jacks on which the LHC stands were manufactured in India.
Becoming CERN’s associate member means that India could propose new experiments and will allow Indian scientists to participate in CERN's training and career-development programmes. Perhaps most importantly, India will be entitled to attend open and restricted sessions of the organisation, thus helping in steering the organization’s science policy. This becomes more important if one takes into account the challenges lying ahead and the need for building international collaborations for future HEP experiments. Finally, it will allow Indian industry to bid for CERN contracts thus opening up opportunities for industrial collaboration in areas of advanced technology.
A new world of wonderful science is about to open up for Indian scientists and researchers giving more opportunities to young people who are attracted by the fundamental questions of modern physics.
Bikahs Sinha, one of the pioneers who worked hard to build ties between CERN and India’s high-energy physics community recalls: “to bring India It has been a long journey since 1989, when the first team of Indian scientists entered the control room and tunnel where CERN's super proton synchrotron was housed”.
Following the hard efforts to secure funding and the strong collaborative spirit, Indian institutes joined the ALICE collaboration with a proposal for a photon-multiplicity detector. Specifically, VECC (Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre) along with other institutes developed one of the ALICE detectors, namly the PMD (Photon Multiplicity Detector) while SINP (Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics) had developed part of the Muon Arm.
Bikash says: “It was a terrific success. My greatest joy was that the PMD not only was a big success for ALICE but also the fact that following our proposal we were also asked to participate in the STAR experiment with a refined version of the PMD”. Today, a more sophisticated version of a PMD is part of ALICE. India also participated in the forward di-muon spectrometer (FMS) and in particular has responsibility for the design, fabrication and supply of the custom VLSI chip required for the spectrometer's front-end electronics. Because of the high packing density and low noise required of the electronics readout, it is essential that the front-end electronics is realized in form of a custom-designed VLSI chip - the MANAS (Multiple Analog Signal processor). Finally, more recently Indian institutions decided to participate in WLCG Grid as well and a Tier-2 centre was setup in Kolkata since 2004.
CERN is in the frontier of technology on a world scale. CERN has a well-established tradition of collaboration with companies and research institutes, with the objective to generate technological results having a potential for commercial exploitation. The spin off from such collaboration with CERN is far reaching and extremely significant for the Indian industrial sector. This collaboration will act as a springboard for India's industrial importance in the world.
The LHC prepares to reach higher energies to answer some of the fundamental questions about the Universe and soon the ALICE detectors will bring us precious information about the primordial form of matter that filled the Universe a few seconds after the Big Bang. Indian scientists will continue working closely with their colleagues from all over the world to to tackle the exciting new world of science. Bikash notes: “This is the first step towards India leading from the front. To trespass into the unchartered territory and go on to discover something fantastic is the ultimate goal”.
Today, India is a vast country facing many challenges but also with a huge reservoir of intrinsic talent. A flavour of that talent was all too obvious among some of the young experimentalists, working at CERN. In fact, with the exposure to a large-scale international collaboration they will be far better equipped to do something really useful for our country. India’s participation at CERN opens a new chapter for the country offering a rich scientific and technological capital that will allow India to thrive in a more and more globalized world.