ISLAMABAD: Apropos the editorial, “Pakistan and CERN”, published in The Express Tribune on September 25, it is necessary to highlight some facts.
While the editorial mentions some potential benefits of Pakistan getting the associate membership of CERN, it also raises concerns that the country may not be in position to provide technical services or support to CERN, and thus may not be able to benefit from the opportunity made available by the associate membership of the body.
While it is true that a lot of effort and technical competency will be required by Pakistani institutes and technologists to win any contract from CERN, this is not something that has not been happening before.
In fact, this membership is not incidental. Pakistan has a long history of collaboration with CERN which spans over two decades when after several years of informal linkage dating back to the days of Professor Salam, formal collaboration between the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and CERN started in 1994.
This collaboration was not just limited to exchange of visitors’ programmes, although many of our scientists worked at CERN, it also involved Pakistani engineers and technicians doing a variety of technical support jobs for CERN. They were involved not only in the manufacture of heavy mechanical parts like the support structure of the huge CMS (large particle detector) magnets and the outer shielding walls of this detector, but they also fabricated very small precision microwave parts to be used in the accelerators. The CERN labs always appreciated the skill and dedication of Pakistani technicians. In 2006, the Heavy Mechanical Complex 3 (HMC-3) of the PAEC was awarded the best industrial partner award by the Atlas facility of CERN.
The PAEC and the National Center for Physics (NCP) were also involved in the design and manufacture of laser alignment system and Resistive Plate Chambers (RPC). These RPCs were ultimately used in the detection of the Higgs boson in CMS. The role of Pakistan made RPC in the detection of Higgs boson was acknowledged by awarding a shield, by the director general of CERN to the chairman of the PAEC. Pakistan was also involved in work related to electronics, microchip design, fabrication and data acquisition systems. Computer grid system set up at the NCP and the CIIT have been functioning to directly collect huge amounts of data from CERN.
While the list can continue, it may be pointed out that other than a solid base for elementary particle physics, the necessary conditions that a country must fulfil in order to become a CERN associate member include “a sufficiently developed industry to enable it to tender for contracts with CERN with a reasonable chance of success”.
A four member CERN Task Force was sent by the CERN Council to Pakistan from February 10-14, 2014 as part of the evaluation process for the associate membership of CERN to determine whether the country meets the above mentioned criteria or not. The task force visited universities, scientific organisations and industrial facilities of the PAEC and the private sector to assess our credentials for the CERN membership and certified in its report to the CERN Council that Pakistan does indeed meet the required criteria.
Based on our previous experience, we believe that Pakistan has a good chance to continue to benefit from CERN’s membership, especially because of the confidence it has already generated for itself at CERN.
It may be added that CERN associate membership can certainly act as catalyst to increase the basic science and technology research in the country. CERN is also an immense technological resource. It depends on how Pakistani scientists and technologists utilise this for their benefit. But there is certainly no cause to despair.
Dr Sohail Ahmad Janjua
Manager CERN Secretariat, PAEC
Published in The Express Tribune, October 1st, 2014.