by Anju Bhasin. Published: 17 February 2011

The Vice Chancellor of the University of Jammu, Varun Sahni has visited CERN on a three day trip. Sahni made a short but significant visit, starting on the 1 February, to show his support for both the project, and the future participation of his University in international scientific projects. He is the first Vice Chancellor of an Indian university to ever come to CERN.

The High Energy Physics group of the University of Jammu has been collaborating in various frontline experiments based at CERN since 1985. The research activity of the group is based on study of heavy ion collisions.

The group has been a part of the ALICE Collaboration since 1997, along with other collaborating Institutes and Universities from India1. Indian scientists have been involved in two of the four experiments at CERN; namely ALICE and CMS.


The Vice Chancellor and his party, in the ALICE cavern

At ALICE the Jammu group, as a part of this international effort, participated in the development, design, fabrication and testing phases of the ALICE Photon Multiplicity Detector (PMD) - an exclusively Indian effort. The Detector Control System for the PMD was also designed and developed at Jammu.

Following the shutdown, Indians installed the PMD into ALICE - the last detector to go inside the L3 magnet.

“Our contribution to this experiment is fundamental,” says Anju Bhasin, ALICE’s team leader at Jammu.

The first stop on the Vice Chancellor’s tour of CERN was the ALICE Time of Flight (TOF) laboratories and the Extreme Energy Events (EEE) project; here he was greeted by Despina Hatzifotiadou and Crispin Williams, who discussed the Multigap Resistive Plate Chambers (MRPC) which are used in the TOF detector.

The EEE Project was also introduced by Williams. Conceived by Antonino Zichichi, the leader of the project, EEE aims to detect the extreme energy events of cosmic rays, using an array of muon telescopes distributed over Italy. The project will introduce high school students to physics, and is hoped will also help to counteract the recent decline in the numbers of physics students.

The detectors for the EEE telescopes are also MRPC, and have been constructed by teams of students who worked in the CERN laboratories. The mechanics and electronics were developed by groups of researchers from CERN, the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare, and Centro Fermi.

On 2 February, the Vice Chancellor was warmly welcomed by the Scientific Advisor for India, Rudiger Voss, who gave a general introduction to CERN activities. This was followed by tour of the ALICE experiment, accompanied by three other members of the Jammu Group. Sahni was shown around the ALICE exhibition, control room and cavern by the ALICE spokesperson Paolo Giubellino, and given the chance to look down from the top of the pit onto the ALICE experiment itself, 52 meters below.

The Vice Chancellor appeared to enjoy the visit – asking many questions throughout the tour. Before leaving, he signed the ALICE guest book, and posed for a photograph with the other members accompanying him – before heading off for a tour of the CERN computing centre for a presentation on the GRID.

On the last day of the trip, Sahni visited the CMS detector development labs, an introduction to which was given by Archana Sharma, who also spoke of the Indian summer students program. Here, young science, engineering and software graduates are given the opportunity to get hands-on experience at CERN.

Sahni appeared to find the detector construction effort most impressive. The Vice Chancellor – who is a social scientist specializing in international politics - had many thoughtful questions and was interested in the goals of the research and in the technical challenges posed.

The most powerful impression he took back with him was that of the borderless international collaboration that is peeling back the layers of our ignorance about the most fundamental questions of Nature. “I found the utilitarian, no frills facilities and the focused, high energy ambience at CERN and ALICE most impressive,” he said.

Sahni says he now has a much clearer idea of the human resource and physical infrastructure needs of the High Energy Physics Group at Jammu, and stated that he will do all he can to ensure that additional resources are procured.