by Polly Bennett. Published: 16 December 2011

During the ALICE Collaboration Board meeting in November two new institutes were admitted to ALICE: The Suranaree University of Technology , Thailand and the University of Talca, Chile. ALICE Matters talks to Dr. Chinorat Kobdaj, Head of Physics at Suranaree, about his university, his plans with ALICE and the renewed vigour of Thai people.


As one of the first autonomous universities in Thailand it seems fitting that the Suranaree University of Technology is also one of the first Thai universities to work with CERN. Although still under Royal Thai Government supervision, Suranaree lies outside the control of the civil service and has academic freedom that surpasses many other universities in Thailand. Dr. Chinorat Kobdaj champions a new era for Thai people, one that requires self-reliance and a shift in mentality from relaxed indifference to determined ambition. This is reflected in his plans for work with ALICE. As well as contributing PhD students to ALICE projects, he also aims to set up a grid site at Suranaree, extending the global computer network used for analysing ALICE data to south-east Asia.

Chinorat explains, “We are keen to be involved with ALICE because we are theoretical physicists not experimentalists. We would like to get the data and do the analysis.” He hopes this will also increase the academic prosperity and influence of Thailand and its physicists. “If you join CERN then you have to come here. There is nothing in Thailand. But if I can set up a grid site then people can come here to work. We can hold CERN schools and then the whole community benefits.”

Chinorat Kobdaj

Suranaree University of Technology, Thailand

Thailand is not a member state of CERN but currently has an Expression of Interest (EoI) with CMS, allowing Thai institutes and researchers to work with this experiment. Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok is currently working with CMS, but Suranaree is the first Thai university to become a member of the ALICE collaboration. This is due to their focus on hadron physics.

Founded in the early 1990s, Suranaree first became involved with ALICE several years ago through an initiative called the ‘Thai-CERN Collaboration’. This was set up by HRH Sirindhorn, the princess of Thailand. Chinorat is immensely proud, “Our princess takes a lot of interest in science and puts great effort into promoting science in Thailand. She has visited CERN four times.” Chinorat explains that her initiative encouraged scientists and institutes interested in working with CERN to sign up and initiate projects, as they would receive much support. “As my group studies hadron physics we wanted to join ALICE rather than CMS. We will study heavy flavour physics.”

Suranaree was also helped by its close links with GSI, Germany. “In 2009 a friend of mine from there introduced my group to people in ALICE. He picked up the phone, arranged a visit with Federico Carminati from the Computing Board, and we drove down to CERN all the way from Germany to meet him. That was my first visit to CERN and when I got home I began to set up the grid site.” Much paperwork and several visits later Chinorat and Paolo Giubellino, the ALICE spokesperson, proposed Thailand’s plans to the Management Board and Collaboration Board late this year. The plans were approved, leaving Chinorat to move onto the next set of operations.

“The first thing is to sign a Memory of Understanding (MoU) with Paolo and Yves Schutz, the deputy spokesperson, in January.” The MoU is a formal agreement that the two research centres will work together, and makes the collaboration more official. “After this I can get some funding.” As an autonomous university Suranaree funds much of its research via revenue-driven projects. “I hope to get enough funding. As an associate member we don’t have to pay anything to ALICE yet, but I have to work to get Suranaree a full member, contributing financially to the experiment. We are planning for that in the next two years.” However, Chinorat is already able to make some contribution. “I have a student already but I need to find a topic for him to work on. I need to discuss potential ideas with people here at ALICE. I hope that by the summer of 2012 I might be able to send at least one student here for a short time.”

Chinorat Kobdaj

Students in a lecture

As well as students and grid activities Suranaree will become the 2nd Thai university to hold a CERN school. The school, which will be held in spring 2012, is designed to encourage new students. “We will introduce more hadron and heavy ion physics than the 1st CERN school,” held at Chulalongkorn in 2010. “Ours will also be more practical, including workshops to give students the skills needed for data analysis.”

Chinorat is an extremely determined individual. He sees a need for Thailand to up its game, becoming more like South Korea or Japan. The grid site at Suranaree will be the only one located in south-east Asia, increasing Thailand’s position in the academic world. Early in November The Sunday Times newspaper reported that the havoc wreaked by natural disasters in the past year has reduced the projections for Thailand’s economic growth by about half. Coupled with the past political instability Thailand is a country undergoing and in need of major change. Chinorat seems part of a new generation of Thai people sparking a ‘can-do’ attitude that is required to get Thailand producing more than just pretty beaches. “Now we try to step more into the science oriented professions. We try to make more technology and be a more technology-wise country. But of course we have to invest. Thai people are generally very relaxed and not very strict, unlike Germans. If you do science you have to be strict. You can’t be ‘oh I’ll do it later, tomorrow’. If you want to do it you have to do it now, and properly! So there is a shift.” Chinorat explains how Thai mentality is beginning to change, “With all the flooding in Thailand people are starting to plan ahead. People aren’t so relaxed. They won’t leave flood defences until the water is coming in.” Part of Chinorat’s vehemence reflects the university’s and country’s desire to become more independent. “Before, we just joined other people like CERN or Japan or China. In the future we plan to build something like our own big research centre.”