The god of small things

If there was a place to be for physics lovers across the world, it had to be the sprawling premises of CERN (Centre for European Nuclear Research) in Geneva, Switzerland. In the wake of the discovery of Higgs Boson, referred to as the the God Particle, the centre was abuzz with scientists, journalists, diplomats, politicians and students from the world over. Present among them was a scientist from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), who, like the others, couldn’t contain his excitement.

A Shiva statue is located close to the main CERN building

Professor Sudhakar Katta has participated in R&D activities of this experiment related to various types of detectors. In an interview with Sunday Mid Day, he describes his experience and sheds light on the contribution of Indian scientists to this groundbreaking experiment.

What was it like to be present at CERN when the announcement relating to Higgs Boson was made?
There was tremendous excitement here. I feel proud to be part of such a fantastic global effort that gave fruits so quickly, after it started taking data in March 2010. After spending more than 20 years on this experiment right from the inception, I feel really great, with a feeling of having achieved something.

What does this discovery imply?
It is a significant step in the world of science. Even though Peter Higgs had proposed that such a particle (Higgs boson) should exist and that it gives mass to various known particles, it had not been seen until now because of complex problems and the available beam energy. Now, with this discovery, the Standard Model theory will get a big boost. It is a step further in understanding nature. I am sure that more interesting results will come out of these experiments in the course of time.

What does CERN mean to you personally, considering so many groundbreaking discoveries have been made at this facility?
I regularly visit CERN three to four times in a year for a duration of two to six weeks. Even before the CMS experiment we were involved in the previous experiments at CERN — Bubble chamber experiments, the EHS experiment, LEP experiments etc. I have been visiting CERN since 1982, when I was working for an EHS experiment called NA27. CERN is wonderful place to work at and it has a true international atmosphere and great culture. I admire their collaborative efforts, having witnessed the great results derived from them.

Professor Sudhakar Katta (TIFR) participated in R&D activities of this experiment related to various types of detectors . Pic/Dhananjay Khadilkar

Does it help that Indian¬†scientists get to work with the world’s best at such a facility?
Yes, it helps a lot. It inspires dedication in work, fosters a spirit of teamwork and facilitates sharing of knowledge with others. One learns about how to organise and execute big projects through collaboration. The effects of the CERN experience can also be seen on students who complete their PhDs and the faculty who get trained here during their work.

What is India’s contribution to this experiment?
India has contributed very significantly to this experiment. Both the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and Department of Science & Technology (DST) have been supporting this endeavour.

India has made hardware contributions to the accelerator and detector, maintenance of detector components, core software development, analysing the vast data in different streams of analysis, and setting of Tier-2 Grid centre at TIFR as a part of the LHC Grid. India will be participating in various upgrades of the CMS detector also in the future. In this process one has also developed technology of making silicon strip detectors in India which are of good quality and are being used in the CMS detector.

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