Particles for Peace; July 2012; Scientific American Magazine; by George Musser; 1 Page(s)
Physics has always been one of the most globalized of professions. Physicists think of themselves as supranational, rising above national and cultural concerns. They may not always live up to this ideal, but at least they try. I got a glimpse of this as a college student in 1987, when I spent my spring break at Bell Labs. High-temperature superconductors had just been discovered, and I had some fun levitating magnets (and collaborated on a published paper). Over lunch, the talk turned to poking holes in the iron curtain. Lab scientists were making contacts with colleagues in the Soviet Union, organizing joint conferences and translating articles from or into Russian. They told me stories about Andrei Sakharov and the Pugwash conferences, which brought together scholars from all countries to work toward nuclear disarmament and later won a Nobel Peace Prize.
This idealistic urge remains powerful. In April, at a workshop I was attending on black holes, I talked to Eliezer Rabinovici, a theoretical physicist at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He and his colleagues may well be the only people on the planet to have gotten Arabs, Iranians, Turks and Israelis to agree on anything. Many countries around the Middle East have signed on to their project to build a particle accelerator for joint use: SESAME.