by Katarina Anthony-Kittelsen. Published: 16 October 2011

On 1 October, ALICE had the chance to host Her Excellency, Mrs. Pratibha Devisingh Patil, President of India, on a tour of the experiment and its control room. ALICE was the only experiment visited by the head of state, in part due to its large Indian collaboration.

Accompanied by a host of Indian journalists, military guards and presidential delegates, President Patil left quite an impression on ALICE physicists! Upon arriving at Point 2, she was greeted by CERN Director General Rolf Heuer and ALICE spokesperson Paolo Giubellino as well as senior Indian scientists working at CERN. After quick overview of the Organization, Rolf Heuer and the President addressed India’s future collaboration with CERN. While India is currently a member of the ALICE experiment, it is considering becoming an Associate Member State of the entire Organization.

President Pratibha Patil, CERN Director General Rolf Heuer, ALICE Spokesperson Paolo Giubellino and others in the ALICE Cavern.

A short stop in LHC operations gave the Accelerator and ALICE teams the opportunity to take the President on a tour through the LHC tunnel to the ALICE cavern. “It was a chance for the President to get a first-hand look at the contributions made by Indian scientists to the accelerator and the experiments,” says Paolo Giubellino. “We were able to point out the parts of the accelerator that had been tested or made in India.” The President expressed great satisfaction with the contributions made by the Indian Collaboration, and was eager to learn about quarks, gluons and the origins of the Universe.

During the conversation, the President and her delegates expressed particular interest in CERN’s educational mandate. ALICE has 35 Indian students working and studying for the experiment – that’s 50% of CERN’s Indian students. “Education is a key part of Indian culture and policy,” explains Tapan Nayak, who leads the Indian collaboration at ALICE. “They were interested in hearing how university students and professors – particularly those from India – were integrated so successfully into the Organization.”

Then it was up to the ALICE control room, where after learning about the experiment’s physics, President Patil had the chance to speak directly with ALICE physicists… in India! “We set up a video chat with the ALICE Centre in Kolkata, which was packed with Indian physicists eager to speak with their president,” says Paolo. “We also showed the President one of the ALICE hardware chips designed and constructed in India.” These chips now sit at the heart of ALICE – a symbol of the nation’s extraordinary contribution to the experiment.

Before leaving, President Patil posed with CERN’s Indian community for a quick “family photo” on the steps of the ALICE Control Centre. “Meeting the President was a thrilling experience,” says Tapan. “With India ramping up their participation in CERN science – ALICE in particular – I think we can look forward to future visits from Indian heads of state.”

ALICE would like to thank the entire collaboration for their support and hospitality during the visit. Particular thanks to: Anju Bhasin, Raghava Varma, Rashmi Raniwala, Jurgen Schukraft, Karel Safarik, Werner Riegler, and Paolo Martinengo for their support during the entire visit.

More photographs of the visit are available here.