Last year, at several events held in India to mark 100 years of Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, top physicists from across the world acknowledged the emergence of India as a key player in modern particle and nuclear physics. On Sunday, the opening day of the 103rd Indian Science Congress on the verdant campus of Mysore University, top foreign and Indian scientists again highlighted India’s particle physics research initiatives.
After playing a key role in international research initiatives like the Large Hadron Collider project at CERN to find the Higgs Boson, India is participating in several mega initiatives — a global nuclear fusion experiment called International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in France, a Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO-India) and a world-class, underground India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO).
“Nearly 10 per cent of the contribution in the ITER project is from India. This will help in leapfrogging India’s nuclear fusion programme,’’ former ISRO chairman K Kasturirangan said Sunday during a talk on mega science projects being taken up by India.
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The ITER project, which involves the European Union, the United States, Russia, China, Japan and South Korea apart from India, will create the world’s largest confined plasma physics experiment facility in an effort to move towards full-fledged nuclear fusion plants for power generation. The reactor is scheduled to begin basic experiments by 2020 and will produce 500 MW using nominal energy inputs, Kasturirangan said.
The Rs 1,500-crore observatory for neutrinos (a subatomic particle) is planned near Theni in Tamil Nadu. The project got a special mention from the 2015 Nobel prize winner for physics, Prof Arthur McDonald of Canada. “India has an excellent opportunity to participate in the field of frontier particle physics through INO,” Prof McDonald said in the course of a plenary talk Sunday. Prof McDonald and Japan’s Takaaki Kajita were awarded the Nobel Prize “for their key contributions to experiments which demonstrated that neutrinos change identities”.
Prof McDonald, who is the director of the $50 million Sudbury Neutrino Observatory in Canada, said India is a pioneer in neutrino research on account of the fact that the world’s first-ever neutrino research facility was created at the Kolar Gold Fields in Karnataka in 1965. A neutrino observatory needs to be very big and must ensure low radioactivity underground with utmost attention to a clean environment, he said.
LIGO-India is an international collaboration to study gravitational waves, which were incidentally first theorised in Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. Scientists from the US, UK, Germany and Australia, under the aegis of an Indian Initiative for Gravitational Observations (IndIGO), will help Indian scientists set up and operate a world-class observatory.
“India is a powerhouse in physics. The Indian group is widely perceived as one of the best in the world. Its members have made numerous profound contributions which are far-reaching and will last forever,” Prof Nathan Seiberg from Princeton’s Institute of Advanced Study said last year during a public talk.