SINP at 50

Print edition : September 01, 2001

Workshops and conferences mark the golden jubilee celebrations of the SINP.

THE Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics entered its golden jubilee year in 2000. The Institute, founded on January 11, 1950, by the astrophysicist Meghnad Saha, celebrated the event by organising a year-long series of international and national conferences and discussions. The conferences and workshops, on a wide range of subjects, such as quantum field theory, neutrino physics, cellular and molecular biophysics, plasma science and technology, multi-detector array, nano materials, magnetic materials and strongly correlated electron systems, were attended by scientists from all over the world.

The inaugural function was held on January 11, 2000, which was attended by a large number of eminent scientists and other dignitaries. Also present was the then Chief Minister of West Bengal Jyoti Basu, Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, eminent physicist and former chairman of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) Raja Ramanna, present DAE Chairman and Chairman of the Governing Council of the SINP R.Chidambaram, Communist Party of India (Marxist) Member of Parliament and Chairman of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) Somnath Chatterjee, and Leader of the Opposition in the West Bengal State Assembly and former MP Atish Sinha.

In his welcome address, SINP Director Bikash Sinha explained the history and historical importance of the Institute. He highlighted some of the major research programmes undertaken by the Institute and the goals it has set for itself.

Raja Ramanna, speaking on the developments made in the field of science and technology in India, said: "Our country has a large number of extremely gifted people and I think all the important scientific discoveries will come from India."

Abdul Kalam paid a tribute to the legacy of Meghnad Saha and recounted his experience of having had to apply the Saha thermal ionisation formula when he faced a problem relating to the re-entry of a rocket into the earth's atmosphere. He spoke highly of the scientific work carried out in the SINP and was particularly impressed by the fact that most of the equipment used in the Institute was developed indigenously. "One unique feature that struck me both in the SINP and in the Variable Energy Cyclotrone Centre (VECC) was the use of home-made instruments. This practice is vanishing. It is important that both the SINP and the VECC carry on their tradition of developing and applying home-made instruments in their research and experiments," he said.

Referring to the proposed nuclear power station in West Bengal, the task of assessing the viability of which has been assigned to the SINP, Kalam emphasised the need to generate cheap electricity using nuclear power. "In the next 20 years some of the natural resources used for the generation of power will get reduced, and nuclear power will have to take over. My request to the SINP and the VECC is that they devote their energies for the development of the country. That can be done only through the development of infrastructure, particularly power," he said.

Both Chidambaram and Atish Sinha spoke of the need for more nuclear power stations, particularly one in the eastern region. Chidambaram congratulated the Director, saying: "Under Bikash Sinha's leadership, this Institute and the VECC have risen to great heights." Atish Sinha praised the State government and Jyoti Basu for their support to the SINP and the VECC. He said a nuclear power station in the eastern region, and particularly in West Bengal, would solve the electricity problem and generate employment.

Jyoti Basu, who spoke last, said: "The Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics occupies an important place in the area of scientific research in the country. Its founder Professor Meghnad Saha was an outstanding scientist. I had the privilege of knowing him closely. He was our pride." He recalled the early days of the Institute and praised Saha's "undying efforts" to apply science and technology for the benefit of the common people. "He endeavoured to free the common people from superstitions, casteism and religious fundamentalism," he said.

Basu also spoke of the contributions made by scientists including P.C. Roy, J.C. Bose, S.N. Bose, C.V. Raman and K.S. Krishnan, "who have enriched our education and have placed India in the international stage of scientific education." Referring to the SINP's present position in international science, he said: "This institute has by now secured a permanent place in the world of science," He made an appeal against the building of nuclear bombs. "The massive build-up of nuclear weapons has the potential to destroy the world 10 times over. But it is my firm belief that weapons will not ultimately dictate the course of human history. The people will have the last say. Nuclear science must be used for peaceful purposes. We must take this pledge for the sake of humanity," he said. He endorsed the other speakers' call for a nuclear power station in the eastern region.

The ceremony set in motion the year-long series of conferences and meetings which were centred on research programmes that were in progress at the Institute. At the workshop on quantum field theory, held during January 18-22, 2000, recent advances in the field, particularly in quantum mechanics and in the Theory of Relativity, were discussed. From January 27 to February 1, 2000, was the ALICE International Collaboration Meeting on the di-muon spectrometer. A Large Ion Collider Experiment (ALICE), is part of the project at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), Geneva. In this experiment, very high energy particles produced in the accelerator at the CERN decay into lighter particles called muons. A highly sophisticated machinery is needed to detect these muons, and the SINP is currently engaged in designing such a spectrometer. Several scientists, including A Morsch from the CERN, F.Staley and Y.L. Bornec from France, took part in the meeting. On February 22, Abhay Ashtekar, the Director of the Centre for Gravitational Physics and Geometry and Eberly Professor of Physics, Pennsylvania State University, delivered the 36th Meghnad Saha Memorial Lecture. The topic, "Space and Time: Einstein and Beyond", was a discourse on Einstein's theory of gravitation and warped space-time in cosmology.

From December 5 to 8, a national symposium on plasma science and technology called Plasma-2000, was held. Apart from basic plasma physics, the topics discussed at the symposium were exotic plasmas, fusion plasmas (especially in reference to the plasma research done around the tokamak machine at the SINP), and space and astrophysics. Research conducted at the Institute has led to the development of highly advanced diagnostic systems for measuring important plasma parameters. Activities in this field have mainly concentrated on ohmically heated plasma in the SINP tokamak. More recent experiments have yielded interesting results on floating potential asymmetry in the edge plasma of the SINP tokamak, saw-tooth oscillations in the SINP tokamak under different operating conditions, runaway behaviour and helicity balance, and injection in the tokamak plasma.

From August 9 to 11, a workshop was held in neutrino physics. It focussed on observational and astrophysical evidence of neutrino masses. In October, an international conference on magnetic materials was attended by 21 foreign scientists, including J.M.D. Coey of Trinity College, Dublin, who spoke of the "Future of magnetism". Some of the other conferences and workshops held throughout the year were on cellular and molecular biophysics, physics of hadrons and nuclei, magnetic materials and strongly correlated electron systems. From January 9 to 30, 2001, a SERC school on surfaces, interfaces and clusters was held. The closing ceremony of the golden jubilee celebrations was on January 11, 2001. The events included the laying of the foundation stone for the new auditorium at the SINP. The auditorium has two lecture halls, a seating capacity of 400, state-of-the-art acoustics and modern communication facilities.

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