On November 21, India officially joined CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, one of the premier scientific research bodies in the world. CERN hosts the Large Hadron Collider, where the Higgs Boson (or ‘God Particle’) was discovered.
The agreement, admitting India to CERN as an Associate Member, was signed between the Director General of CERN, Fabiola Gianotti, and the Chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission and Secretary of the Department of Atomic Energy, Sekhar Basu.
“This is a historic day; a win-win situation,” the Hindustan Times quoted Gianotti as saying. “India has been contributing in an important way by participating in experiments, and technology to build components. The goal now is to expand collaboration in new technology and experiments, and increase opportunities to train teachers and students,” she said.
At CERN, scientists from around the world explore some of the central questions facing the scientific community about the fundamental nature of the universe. LHC was designed to simulate the conditions that emerged in the wake of the Big Bang. India played a key role in the development of the machine and participated in the experiments that ultimately led to the discovery of the Higgs Boson in 2012.
India has had observer status at CERN since 2002. But the elevation to Associate Member comes at a cost. The country will have to pay about Rs. 77.7 crore annually towards the operating costs of CERN’s programmes.
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Last year, India submitted a Letter of Intent and officially applied to become an associate member. Subsequently, this application was put to vote and after getting approval a task force was sent to India to assess if the criteria for membership were met. India’s associate membership will be up for review every five years; it also has the option of applying to become a full member after two years. Full membership will grant India the right to vote, a privilege not accorded to Associate Members.
“It’s a momentous day for Indian science,” Sandip Trivedi, Director of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, told Hindustan Times. TIFR scientists have been part of CERN experiments since the 1970s. “A new era has begun,” Trivedi said.
The membership allows India to participate in CERN council meetings and those of its committees. This will ensure India has a larger say in decisions regarding scientific policy formulation and experiments at the highest levels. India’s access to research facilities and industry engagement will correspond to its financial contribution.
This also means that Indian scientists are eligible to apply for staff appointments at CERN. Indian graduate and doctoral students will have a chance to attend different educational programmes and workshops held by CERN. The membership will also open up new opportunities for Indian industry, which will be able to bid for CERN contracts, allowing for industrial cooperation in scientific research.
“For over 50 years, India has been a strong partner in CERN’s scientific activities,” Gianotti acknowledged. “For instance, Indian physicists, engineers and technicians have made substantial contributions to the construction of the LHC accelerator and to the ALICE and CMS experiments, as well as to accelerator R&D projects. I am very happy to welcome India as a new Associate Member State and I’m looking forward to enhanced cooperation on CERN’s exciting scientific and technology programmes.”