Ateneo physics student Michael Andrews joins the 1st Institute of Advanced Studies School of Particle Physics and Cosmology at Nanyang Technological University last 9-31 Jan 2012

Institute for Advanced Studies

Institute for Advanced Studies

by Michael Andrews

MS Physics Student, Ateneo de Manila University

The “1st Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS) School on Particle Physics and Cosmology with Implications for Technology supported by CERN” was 3-week long collection of lectures on the above subjects presented at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore. It is patterned after the 1-3 week long winter and summer schools on particle physics hosted by various physics institutes in the US and Europe. The IAS is a division in NTU that chiefly organizes science-related workshops and conferences for researchers and students around Asia. The next one might be in 2014 still.

I learned about the School through the Ateneo Physics Department back in November 2011. The School was targeted at “advanced graduate students” and postdocs in Asia with a basic knowledge of particle physics. I didn’t have any formal classes in quantum field theory (QFT) but applied anyway. I was accepted with the USD 1,000 fee waiver in late December. The only reason I was accepted, in my opinion, was because I was working on a theoretical piece in classical field theory. As for the fee waiver, I would credit my DOST scholarship which I cited prevents me from employment.

Michael Andrews and fellow students in Institute for Advanced Studies School on Particle Physics and Cosmology

Michael Andrews (first from right) and fellow students in Institute for Advanced Studies School on Particle Physics and Cosmology

There were roughly 50 participants and coming mostly from Asia, including India, China, the Middle East, and almost all countries from South East Asia ranging from high school students to postdocs. Many but not all students had taken QFT. Almost everyone was doing some kind of theoretical particle physics/cosmology-related research though not everyone had actually published. Everyone, though, was polite and friendly, and despite the disparity in cultural backgrounds, it was surprising to learn just how many habits we shared: collecting physics ebooks, facebook-ing, 9gag-ing, etc.

All the lectures slides are available online in the School’s website. The lectures were also recorded on video, the link to which should eventually be found in the same website. They included everything from abstract theory to experiment and instrumentation. Most were reviews/summaries on the state of affairs for certain sub-fields, but some current research was also presented. While an understanding of QFT study is needed to fully appreciate some of the lectures, the gist can always be gleaned—this shouldn’t deter students from applying. I’m sure not everyone understood every detail of every lecture. Particle physics is quite a wide field and some talks were just too specialized. The most interesting, for me, were those on Dark Matter, CP Violation (study of matter-antimmatter asymmetry) and Supersymmetry (SUSY). The one on accelerator applications was quite a surprise, too.

Many of the lecturers were senior scientists, both in accomplishment and age. The full list may be consulted in the IAS website but to mention some notable speakers, there was the present leader of the CERN Theory Division, who gave a string theory and phenomenology talk, and the past leader of the CERN Theory Division—also one of the most cited physicists in the literature—who spoke on the Standard Model and Supersymmetry. One of the co-founders of quark “color” theory, talked, no less, about quantum chromodynamics and his take on extending the SM. Also, there was a QFT book author and MIT professor, a member of the OPERA experiment (where alleged superluminal neutrinos were clocked), and member of the AMS experiment (the particle detector in space).

 There are a lot of very exciting prospects for discovery but with them many strong caveats. The forefront of high energy physics is very much a mixed human enterprise: there’s a lot of uncertainty and disagreement as to how to proceed; it’s nowhere near as buttoned-down as it appears on textbooks.

 As an example, there are compelling reasons the SM is still the incomplete picture. But in the absence of high energy data, a zoo of models proposing how the Standard Model (SM) might be extended has mushroomed. And one fear is that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC)—and any future collider—may not be able to probe the energies required to see deviations from the SM, leaving theorists to forever guess in the dark.

Michael Andrews (2nd from left) and fellow students in the Institute for Advanced Studies School on Particle Physics and Cosmology

Michael Andrews (2nd from left) and fellow students in the Institute for Advanced Studies School on Particle Physics and Cosmology

But in the midst of it all, one gets to appreciate the diversity and rigor in science and scientists. I recall an incident where 2 physicists to my left at a lunch table politely asked a string theorist to my right, who had just given a talk with his wife right beside him, “May I ask you a physics question?” After hearing “Sure,” the two switched gears and began to bluntly interrogate his wisdom in pursuing certain non-falsifiable aspects of his talk. A heated exchange of highfalutin terms ensued, but which, to them sounded like basic English. Eventually, this string theorist, who had made little mention of experiment in his talk, conceded to saying that “If the LHC doesn’t find anything, then I will give it up.” But another string theorist in the School made it clear right at his talk that he holds little hope of string theory ever being tested experiment. Akin to a pure mathematician, he was content to show that string theory establishes connections within other mathematical structures or problems, physical or otherwise. And yet another string theorist, or rather string phenomenologist, the one from CERN, spent much of his talk explaining how signals consistent with string theory might be detected at the LHC. Such an emphasis on experimental detection was a trait many CERN physicists showed, including the theorists.

I’m told that there is quite strong demand for researchers to do phenomenology/data analysis at CERN. For those interested in a phenomenology/experimental PhD route, the best way is to apply to European universities which will typically have reserved slots at CERN or to the CERN Summer School, where you may thereafter be the given the option to complete a Masters jointly with a supervisor from CERN. The National Institute of Physics at the University of the Philippines, I’m told, already has access to some data for research. I don’t know if this is available to other schools.

For a PhD in theoretical particle physics, at least in UK and Germany, you will need to obtain a specialized Masters in high energy physics first; the local programs wont cut it. Institutes like the International Center for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Italy, and also the Perimeter Institute (directed by Neil Turok of Cambridge) in Canada offer these with fee waivers. In Asia, I hear the National University of Singapore (NUS) has a well-staffed high energy physics faculty.

There are number of other 1-3wk summer/winter schools in particle physics in Asia and abroad (e.g. ICTP), many of which offer fee waivers. I strongly recommend applying to these, if only for the exposure. Perhaps I can work with LeaPs (League of Physicists) to compile a list of these and Masters schools.

Michael Andrews (center near the bottom of the stairs) with other participants in the IAS-CERN school

Michael Andrews (center near the bottom of the stairs) with other participants in the IAS-CERN school

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About ateneophysicsnews
Physics News and Features from Ateneo de Manila University

One Response to Ateneo physics student Michael Andrews joins the 1st Institute of Advanced Studies School of Particle Physics and Cosmology at Nanyang Technological University last 9-31 Jan 2012

  1. Uzziel Perez says:

    Thanks for the article Mike and Sir Sugon!!!

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