A new theoretical physics center in São Paulo | AGÊNCIA FAPESP

The first South American branch of the International Center for Theoretical Physics started its activities on the São Paulo Unesp campus, with FAPESP funding. The facility will conduct high-tech research and foster intense interchange among scientists (Unesp)

A new theoretical physics center in São Paulo

February 15, 2012

By Fábio de Castro

Agência FAPESP – The State of São Paulo, in Brazil, will take an important step toward becoming the focal point for theoretical physicists across the continent within the next week. Activities at the South American Institute for Fundamental Research (SAIFR) began on February 6.

Headquartered on the Universidade Estadual Paulista (Unesp) campus, the new center will be the first South American branch of the International Center for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), which is part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and is located in Trieste, Italy.

According to Nathan Berkovits, director of the ICTP-SAIFR and a professor at Unesp’s Institute of Theoretical Physics (IFT), the new institution will aim to become the primary focus for theoretical physics on the continent. In addition to serving as a focus for research, the center will organize international advanced schools and workshops, receive visiting researchers and post-doctoral scholars, and promote intense interchange between students and researchers in Brazil and abroad.

The ICTP-SAIFR, which receives FAPESP funding for its installations, will occupy a position in South America similar to that of the Trieste center, founded in 1964 by Pakistan’s Abdus Salam, who won the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics.

“For nearly 50 years, the ICTP has held the role of helping advance scientific excellence in developing countries that have less structure in theoretical physics. This center will hold this role in South America, becoming a center of excellence and making São Paulo into a place for researchers from the entire continent to meet and interact with the world’s greatest talents in theoretical physics,” Berkovits told Agência FAPESP.

In the beginning, the ICTP-SAIFR will focus on areas of theoretical physics that have already been consolidated at IFT-Unesp, such as gravitation, particle physics, superstrings, complex systems, field theory and nuclear and atomic physics.

In the future, activities will extend to all areas of theoretical physics. The new center will operate in the IFT-Unesp building in the Barra Funda region of São Paulo city. The vice director will be Professor Rogério Rosenfeld, who is an ex-director of IFT-Unesp.

According to Berkovits, resources for ICTP-SAIFR will be guaranteed by a partnership between Unesp, ICTP and FAPESP. Unesp will be responsible for hiring five permanent researchers to perform independent studies and act as advisors in the university’s post-graduate department. The researchers will also collaborate on research.

The permanent members of ICTP-SAIFR will be selected by an international search committee formed by Peter Goddard, Edward Witten and Mathias Zaldarriaga – all from the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton --, Marcela Carena from Fermilab, David Gross from the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, Leo Kadanoff and Robert Wald from the University of Chicago, and Martin Rees from the University of Cambridge.

The ICTP-SAIFR Scientific Council, headed by Peter Goddard, is composed of Matias Zaldarriaga, Marcela Carena, Seifallah Randjbar-Daemi, Juan Montero (IFT-Unesp), Marcel Clerc (Universidad de Chile), Luiz Davidovich (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro), Daniel Sudarsky (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), Anthony Zee (University of California) and Barton Zwiebach (MIT).

“Unesp has also committed to providing infrastructure to create the center and to hiring a bilingual secretary, a computer systems manager and an accountant. The new IFT building where the center will be headquartered has an auditorium that seats 120 people, an informatics lab for 40 people, classrooms, and offices for visiting researchers and post-doctoral students,” he said.

Berkovits says the ICTP will finance the participation of researchers from other South American countries interested in taking part in the activities at the new center.

FAPESP will finance the center through the Thematic Project “ICTP South American Institute for Fundamental Research: a regional center for theoretical physics”, coordinated by Berkovits.

“FAPESP is the main partner. The Thematic will finance nine post-doctoral fellowships and provide resources for us to be able to have three visiting researchers at a time, with varying stays over a five-year period. The project also anticipates resources for organization of workshops and for bringing participants from other parts of Brazil or other continents,” said Berkovits.

The first ICTP branch outside its home country, the ICTP-SAIFR boasts a large number of international connections already consolidated by IFT-Unesp researchers.

Overseas collaborations, for example, are the strong point of the group working on the FAPESP-funded Thematic Project called “Research and Learning on the Strings Theory”, coordinated by Berkovits.

“We organized two advanced schools on superstring theory together with the ICTP in 2003 and 2010,” he said. Guatemala’s Fernando Quevedo, director of the Trieste center and professor at the University of Cambridge, participated in both events.

“Quevedo was familiar with the IFT-Unesp and so when they decided to go ahead and create a South American center, they of course thought of São Paulo,” said Berkovits.

Inauguration and advanced schools

The new institution has already put its activities into practice. “The first advanced school was held from January 16 to 28, with a mathematics course using applied biology attended by 63 students from Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela, not to mention Canada, the United States, England and Portugal,” said Berkovits.

The second event will be held from June 16 to 27: the “The Advanced School on General Relativity: Relativistic Astrophysics and Cosmology”. The third Advanced School, “Symbolic Computing in Theoretical Physics: Integrability and Super-Yang-Mills” will be held from November 5 to 16.

On February 5, on the eve of the ICTP-SAIFR’s official inauguration, the center held a scientific lecture intended for the general public, entitled “Explaining the Origins of the Universe”. The lecture was given by Argentina’s Matias Zaldarriaga, a professor at Princeton University’s Institute for Advanced Studies.

The ICTP-SAIFR’s official inauguration will be held at 4pm on February 6, with participation by Peter Goddard, director of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies, by Julio Cezar Durigan, acting vice-president of Unesp, by ICTP director Fernando Quevedo, by FAPESP’s scientific director, Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, by Jacob Palis, president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences (ABC) and physicist Juan Maldacena, representing the other South American nations. The last five participants listed here are also members of the ICTP-SAIFR directing committee.

A round table discussion on the role of the new ICTP-SAIFR institute was held on February 7. The debate includes short presentations by physicists Luis Raul Abramo and Gustavo Burdman – both from the Institute of Physics at the Universidade de São Paulo (USP)— by Amir Caldeira from the Universidade Estadual de Campinas (Unicamp), by FAPESP Scientific Director Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, by Celso Pinto de Melo, president of the Brazilian Physics Society and by Sergio Rezende, ex-minister of Science and Technology.

More information is available at: www.ictp-saifr.org



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