Abdus Salam and the International Centre for Theoretical Physics

A brief look at the origins and achievements of the Centre as it celebrates its fortieth anniversary.

The Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics has turned forty. We shall briefly review its origins and achievements. 40 Years of ICTP On 4-5th October 2004, ICTP (Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics, in Trieste, Italy) celebrated its 40th anniversary with an international conference, Legacy of the Future. The conference attracted more than three hundred scientists and policy makers around the world. Significantly, the conference held a roundtable discussion on the future of science in the developing world. It is this concern for the developing world, since its inception in 1964, which makes ICTP unique. The name of ICTP is forever linked to its founder, Abdus Salam, a co-winner of the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics, the founder and long-time director of ICTP. Salam was born in 1926 in Jhang, then part of India. Jhang became part of Pakistan after the division of the subcontinent in 1947. Salam returned to Pakistan in 1951 after a brilliant start to a research carrier in Britain. In Pakistan he experienced the dilemma of trying to perform scientific research and advanced studies in the relative isolation of a developing country. Without access to conferences, journals and other forms of support, Salam made the very difficult decision to leave his home country to continue his work in physics. He joined the Imperial College in London and established a research group with extraordinary distinction. Salam’s first hand experience in coping with scarce resources and the remote location of his country prompted him to create ICTP with the aim to foster the growth of advanced scientific studies and research in developing countries. 58 The Review of Religions – August 2006 Abdus Salam and the International Centre for Theoretical Physics By Sameen Ahmed Khan – Middle East College of Information Technology (MECIT), Muscat, Sultanate of Oman Salam’s vision has been fulfilled. Abdus Salam decided to create an international centre dedicated to theoretical physics, which would pay special attention to the needs of scientists from the developing world. In 1960, Salam outlined a proposal for the Centre, at the Tenth Annual International Conference on High Energy Physics, in Rochester, USA. The same year he presented the proposal before the delegates attending the General Conference of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Commission), in Vienna, Austria. Salam’s brainchild met with enthusiastic support from eminent physicists including the Nobel Laureate Niels Bohr and later his son Age Bohr (who later received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1975). But Salam’s ongoing efforts to secure support for the creation of the Centre encountered a series of obstacles set in place by the IAEA’s Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC). The Committee (which included Nobel Laureate Isidor Isaac Rabi) suggested that the creation of the fellowship programmes at existing centres of theoretical physics could prove more cost-effective and easier-to- implement, than creating a new Centre from scratch. Committee members also expressed concerns that a centre in theoretical physics would have no practical applications for developing countries struggling to improve their living standards (see Page No.7 in (1)). It is very glaring that Rabi who had drafted the Florence resolution of 1950, urging UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) to create regional science centres, had opposed the creation of ICTP. It is to be recalled that the Florence resolution had played an important role leading to the establishment of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research(2). It is widely known by the French acronym CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire). CERN, located in Geneva, Switzerland was founded in 1954 by a group of twelve countries from Europe. Now it has twenty Member Countries. CERN has developed into the largest accelerator laboratory in the world(3). In the 59 ABDUS SALAM AND THE INTERNATIONAL CENTRE FOR THEORETICAL PHYSICS The Review of Religions – August 2006 prehistory of CERN, Niels Bohr had expressed some reservations of creating CERN(4). Sigvard Eklund, a strong believer in Abdus Salam’s vision, was appointed the Director-General of IAEA in 1961. This was the turning point as Salam’s idea triumphed. The IAEA soon realised that the new Centre could not be created solely from its own funds. Financial offers came from the governments of Italy with Trieste as the candidate site; from Denmark for Copenhagen; from Pakistan for Lahore; and from Turkey for Ankara. The most generous offer came from Italy and the man behind this was Professor Paolo Budinich, a famous theoretical physicist in Italy. Budinich argued that the Centre would help ease East-West tensions due to the Cold War. After a slow but clear sailing for four years in the corridors of policymakers, Salam’s proposal became a reality. On 5 October 1964, a group of high officials, mostly from Italy, joined eminent physicists from around the world for the inaugural meeting of the newly-created International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP). A seminar on plasma physics served as a platform from which ICTP was officially launched. Abdus Salam, who spearheaded the drive for the creation of ICTP by working through IAEA, became the Centre’s director. Paolo Budinich, who worked tirelessly to bring the Centre to Trieste, became ICTP’s deputy director. After residing for four years in downtown Trieste, ICTP moved to its permanent location near the Miramare Park in 1968. UNESCO joined in extending support to the new Centre in 1970. Over the four decades ICTP has accomplished its goals. Since its birth four decades ago, several scientific bodies have spawned with headquarters in and around ICTP. Collectively, they are known as the ‘Trieste Science System’, which include SISSA (International School of Advanced Study) and TWAS (Third World Academy of Sciences). TWAS was recently renamed as The Academy of Sciences for the Developing World, but the acronym will remain 60 ABDUS SALAM AND THE INTERNATIONAL CENTRE FOR THEORETICAL PHYSICS The Review of Religions – August 2006 the same as before(5). ICTP is encouraging science in the developing countries through its various visiting programmes. It is also recognising their talent through the prizes and medals it has instituted. This is reflected as follows: • Around two thousand scientific activities (from introductory schools to advanced workshops) have been organised on the ICTP’s premises. • Around a hundred thousand scientific visitors have been to ICTP. About half of them came from developing countries and many of them regard ICTP as a scientific home away from home. • Thousands of research papers have resulted from the work of the ICTP community. • Almost every physics Ph.D in the continent of Africa has some link with ICTP. • Over eighty Nobel Laureates, as well as many prestigious scientists have given lectures at ICTP. In 2004, ICTP had 7134 participants in about fifty meetings totaling to 4327 person-months. 69% came from developing countries. In all 124 countries were represented. ICTP has successfully evolved from a vision to a system(6). ICTP was renamed as Abdus Salam ICTP on the occasion of Salam’s first death anniversary in November 1997. ICTP held a Conference on Physics of Tsunamis in March 2005, which was another evidence of its deep involvement in the developing countries. With all the visiting and international coordination pro- grammes the annual budget of ICTP is about US$23 million. This is the range of budget that can be afforded by the many developing countries. Centres modeled after ICTP have been set up in South Korea and Latin America, though on a reduced scale. They have been successful not only in curbing brain-drain but also in attracting back those scientists who had migrated to the developed countries. ICTP provides a viable 61 ABDUS SALAM AND THE INTERNATIONAL CENTRE FOR THEORETICAL PHYSICS The Review of Religions – August 2006 model for implementing science programmes in the developing countries. Concluding Remarks The anniversary of the ICTP was celebrated not only by physicists but by the global scientific community. They drew attention of the media and the public at large. The generous support by the Italian government for ICTP has set a unique example in the North- South cooperation. From the very beginning, ICTP has been addressing the problems being faced by the developing countries. Salam had dreamt of creating twenty ICTPs around the world. As part of that vision, he actively promoted the idea of advancing the cause of science and technology in the developing countries, not only by having researchers from the region work with their colleagues in the developed world, but also by having the region develop its own facilities. For the Middle East region, he had suggested facilities including a synchrotron labor- atory(7-9). SESAME (Synchrotron- light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East) synchrotron facility, hosted by Jordan, has been a significant development(10). Regional Synchrotron Radiation Facilities (RSRF) in the continents of Africa, Asia and South America can be a step towards that dream(11). Will the decision-makers in the developing countries take heed(12)? REFERENCES: 1. André-Marie Hamende, The Birth of the Centre, News from ICTP, No. 107, pp. 6-7 (Winter 2003-2004). 2. Herwig Schopper, Sameen Ahmed Khan and John Krige, CERN’s Early History Revisited, Letters in Physics Today, 58 (4), 87-89 (April 2005). 3. CERN Website: http://www.cern.ch/ 4. Carlo Rubbia, Edoardo Amaldi: Scientific Statesman, CERN Report, CERN-91-09 (1991), pp. 12. 62 ABDUS SALAM AND THE INTERNATIONAL CENTRE FOR THEORETICAL PHYSICS The Review of Religions – August 2006 5. TWAS Website: http://www.twas.org/ 6. Abdus Salam ICTP Website: http://www.ictp.it/ 7. Sameen Ahmed Khan, Professor Abdus Salam and the Middle-East Synchrotron, The Review of Religions, 98 (3), pp. 54-66 (March 2003). 8. Abdus Salam, in Renaissance of Sciences in Islamic Countries, Editors: H. R. Dalafi and M. H, A. Hassan, (World Scientific, Singapore, 1994). 9. Abdus Salam, in Ideals and Realities, third edition, Editors: C. H. Lai and Azim Kidwai, (World Scientific, Singapore, 1989). 10. Sameen Ahmed Khan, The Middle East Synchrotron Facility can bring Regional Cooperation, DOMES, 11 (2), pp. 57-71 (Winter/December 2002). (DOMES: Digest of Middle East Studies). 11. Sameen Ahmed Khan, ‘Need to Create Regional Synchrotron Radiation Facilities’ (RSRF), IRPS Bulletin, 17 (2), 7-13 (July 2003). 12. Sameen Ahmed Khan, Need to Create Regional Science Centres in the Developing Countries, In proceedings of Higher Education in Developing Countries: With a Focus on Muslim Contexts, The Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU- ISMC), (24-25 February, London, UK). 10 pages. 63 ABDUS SALAM AND THE INTERNATIONAL CENTRE FOR THEORETICAL PHYSICS The Review of Religions – August 2006 We hope you have enjoyed reading this edition of the magazine. The Review of Religions will continue to provide discussion on a wide range of subjects and welcomes any comments or suggestions from its readers. 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