Science in Pakistan

August 28, 2008

A few weeks back, a senior Pakistani physicist asked some of us if we would be interested in teaching for a semester or two in one of Pakistan’s premier new universities at (almost) western salaries. As it turned out, many of my colleagues were interested, though given the present state of relations between the two countries, it’s not clear that we would get clearance from the Government of India, which would be a pity.

Coincidentally, a recent editorial in Nature appeared, pointing out some interesting facts. Apparently, while military rule may not have beenĀ  good for the country as a whole (it usually never is) military dictators, and particularly Pervez Musharraf has invested more in science in Pakistan than the many short lived democratic governments who have been too busy to survive to worry about appointing vice chancellors or science ministers and fund the science establishment. The net result is that while Musharraf may have done his little bit for science, years, perhaps decades of neglect have left the science establishment bereft of any major pool of serious teachers and researchers. Hence the need to ask scientists from the ‘enemy’ country to come and spend some time in Pakistan.

If this plan works, it would indeed be an excellent case of cooperation across a rather unstable border, and yet another example of how science knows no boundaries. Will our countries display that wisdom?

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The World’s Largest Experiment

August 21, 2008

This is my first post on this site and I will try and keep this site mainly for physics issues. I also blog here but mostly on non academic or at least non physics issues.

I can’t think of a better way to start this ‘physics’ blog than to talk about the largest experiment in the world — The Large Hadron Collider — at CERN which will eventually collide 7 TeV on 7 TeV protons hoping to unlock some of the open problems in High Energy Physics.

The Standard Model of Particle Physics has not had any major discoveries in quite a while. While Tevatron and HERA have some remarkable results both in precision tests and in new and unexpected behaviour in Deep Inelastic scattering and the neutrino detectors around the world have given us an insight into neutrino masses and oscillations (the first evidence of any physics beyond the standard model). there has not been any ‘big’ event in this field for some time. Theorists have had a field day producing theories after theories about scenarios beyond the standard model, but since none of their predictions have yet been seen, all hopes and aspirations for ‘proving’ one’s favourite model now rest on the LHC. This is a bit frightening — the pressure on the experimentalists (and the theorists) to interpret every blip, every extra track, every signal of missing energy, every extra jet as a proof of “someone’s” favourite model will get to be enormous. In any case, contrary to popular belief, none of this, if it at all happens, will happen very soon. It will take a long time perhaps at least a year to tune the machine and make sure it’s all working and reproducing the known parts of the standard machine correctly (something that has been tried and tested in numerous other earlier experiments) before one can confidently step forward and start looking for the Higgs and then for scenarios beyond the standard model.

However, whichever way it works, just the amount of data that the LHC will produce (around a few Peta Bytes per year after a 10^7 factor cut at the detector level itself) means there will be enough to do and therefore there can be no better time to get into High Energy Physics. So roll up, young boys and girls and get yourself counted and enrolled into one of the most exciting times in High Energy Physics!

Hello world!

April 24, 2008

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