India to seek associate membership of CERN

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    India plans to apply for associate membership of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), which manages the $4.75 billion (around Rs.26,125 crore) Large Hadron Collider (LHC), with an eye towards boosting its science credentials as well as giving a boost to its industry.

    Becoming an associate member, a step up from India’s current observer status, would mean Indian manufacturing firms gain greater clout in pitching for CERN construction contracts.

    Previously, India had contributed equipment worth $25 million (around Rs.130 crore) as part of the LHC. These include a variety of magnets and precision magnet positioning systems jacks that are used to prop the massive magnets used in the collider, as well as ensure the accurate alignment of the particle beams that circulate, collide and break up into the various kinds of subatomic particles, which are then analysed.

    The design and construction of most of this equipment was led by Indian universities such as the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) and Panjab University.

    An associate membership will also mean Indian industry would have a slight edge in several kinds of equipment design and construction contracts at CERN.

    “A membership has its advantages. Even now any firm can participate, but most of the firms that are now involved are European companies,” said Atul Gurtu, a senior professor at TIFR, Mumbai, and closely involved with the India initiative. Another key motive would be influencing policy. India’s observer status allows Indian scientists to participate in experiments, but it doesn’t give them enough clout to effectively participate in key policy decisions. “India’s been involved with CERN for long, but there are some key meetings that are open only to members,” Gurtu added.

    A science ministry official said the proposal was being discussed at the department of atomic energy and would be forwarded to CERN once the approvals were in.

    An associate membership would mean an annual fee of Rs.50 crore and other commitments of manpower that would have to be maintained for a certain number of years.

    Currently, only Israel and Brazil are associate members. Most of the full members are European nations.

    Other than LHC, India is looking to participate in several ambitious science experiments. In July 2011, science secretary T. Ramasami said India will join the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project, an international, $1.2 billion initiative to build the world’s largest telescope in Hawaii, if the US and Canadian project planners used some India-made components.

    LHC, which last month announced the discovery of a particle similar to the Higgs boson that is believed to play a critical role in conferring all matter with mass, will be shut down in the coming months for two years for maintenance and boosting particle-detecting capabilities. This period will also see much construction and development, said scientists involved with the programme.
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