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TRIUMF | Vancouver, BC | Canada

View Blog | Read Bio

Superconducting in West Bengal

–by Nigel S. Lockyer, Director

[Ed. Note: This is the second of a three-part series penned by Nigel on his trip to India in early March 2011.]

Day 1 (Feb 27, 2011, in some time zone): Had dinner this evening with a postdoc and friend from TRIUMF, Smarajit, who has just joined the faculty at Delhi University (a small school…only 390,000 students!) as an assistant professor. I experienced golgappas. Basically it is an appetizer made of a crispy wafer in the shape of a hollowed-out pumpkin filled with spicy water. You put the whole thing in your mouth and let the flavours explode was my instruction from Smarajit. It exploded all right, my throat was on fire for 30 seconds making me speechless. Then Smarajit became concerned that I shouldn’t have drank it because the water may have come from the local tap. We asked the waiter and it did come from the tap. Oh well…too late now. Of course I went back for more. It was an experience worth repeating. Over dinner, we discussed the research trajectory his career might take over the next few years. I told him he has to first understand the funding system in India, make research connections in his department and university, with colleagues and labs in India and then finally internationally. Needless to say, for Smarjit, the international component would be the easiest because he has many connections around the world and established collaborations. The Indian University Accelerator Centre” (IUAC) is an ideal place to do experiments with stable beams because it is world class and is located in Delhi…very convenient. IUAC may be the most advanced institute in India for superconducting radio frequency accelerator research…the same area TRIUMF has focused on for accelerator development.

Got up at 3:00 AM and headed to Delhi’s brand new beautiful and very large airport (opened July 2010 for the Commonwealth Games) on a new highway for the trip to Kolkata. Oh did I mention the automobile horn is undergoing phase-I trials in India….every car is expected to test out their horn essentially all the time.

Day 2: Big news today is that England and India tie in a nail biter played in Bangalore. The game of cricket, brought to India by the “Britishers” (that is what the Indians call the British) is a game the Indians are crazy about, just like Canadians and ice hockey. The world cup game is a little like baseball, wooden bat, flat rather than round, big grass field in a large stadium, a batter and a pitcher or as they say bowler. No hot dogs but lots of dahl. Not sure about beer sales in the stadium but Indians like beer (and scotch). Fans do paint their faces and are “engaged” in the game like everywhere else. In cricket there are fixed number of pitches for each side. Called “Overs,” or six legal pitches, they play each for 50 Overs or 300 pitches. To score you must hit the ball and be able to run between the wickets. There are two wickets, 20 feet apart, two batters, one end to be bowled to at any given time. One team bats, 11 players each side, roughly half are bowlers. The games big name, an Indian named Sachin Tendulkar (“Cricket is my religion and Sachin is my god,” they say), is called the master blaster. No more need be said. This year Australia has a good team, India, and Sri Lanka. One high point for me was that Canada had a team in the world cup. I did not know that. When Canada played Zimbabwe, the Indian newspaper Hindustantimes called it the battle of the “minnows.” That’s not good for sure. Perhaps if they used cricket bats instead of than hockey sticks they would do better.

After a hair raising “yikes” ride from the airport, (I’ll never complain about Vancouver traffic again) to the Kolkata Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre (VECC) we checked into our rooms at the new dorm. My first thought was how many people are killed in India in car accidents. They said not too many but it came out later the number is 85,000 per year, or eight times the US, which is also high especially when you take into account the relative number of drivers. More people in India but not that many drive as much as in the US!

We pretty much started our collaboration meeting upon arrival. The meeting started with the Director of VECC, Rakesh Bhandari, welcoming us and then presenting the plans for his laboratory. I followed with the status and plans for TRIUMF. Both teams made interwoven presentations all day focused on the VECC test as we now call it. This is the 30kW electron beam test we must complete together (according to our MOU) by March 2012…a tight schedule. It will include a 300 keV electron gun, a low energy beam transport and de-buncher, and an accelerating section called the injector cryomodule or ICM. We are building two such modules together…referred to as ICM1 and ICM2…one stays at TRIUMF after the test and one is shipped to India. Then we got started with detailed presentations by Lia Merminga, Head of TRIUMF’s Accelerator Division, Bob Laxdal, Head of our SRF Department and co-Deputy Division Head , and Amiya Mitra, Head of our RF group (Amiya is originally from Bengal). The room was full (~25 people) of young Indian physicists and engineers, a good mix of men and women…lots of questions and interest from them.

VECC is planning a major new isotope facility, called ANURIB, which stands for “A National Facility for Unstable Rare Isotope Beams.” The young researchers and engineers are getting intellectually engaged in the scientific and technical design challenges of the planned project. Interestingly, we learned that VECC is expanding to a new “green field” site called Raharjat in a few years which allows them to grow their present rare isotope beam facility. There were numerous hot tea and cookie breaks through the day…to keep us awake….jet lag had set in already. The TRIUMF/VECC collaboration works well because we have similar goals but neither lab individually has the resources to do what they wish to do… so pooling our resources makes a lot of sense.

VECC presently uses its room-temperature cyclotron (they have just commissioned a superconducting cyclotron as well) to accelerate protons (or alphas) and then send them to strike a thick target that then produces various unstable nuclei. They do experiments with materials as well as nuclear physics. After the target they have a few acceleration stages that increases the beam energy up to 1.2 MeV per nucleon. Their plan is to reach 2.0 MeV per nucleon. They wish to do this by collaborating with TRIUMF on a superconducting radio frequency (SRF) technology heavy ion linear accelerator, an area of expertise of TRIUMF.

At the end of the day we went for dinner is a restaurant downtown…about 15 people. It was a pleasant evening, food was great, beer was better, and the discussion moved in and out of physics and life in India. Surprisingingisinginglyly (southern India spelling of surprising), there was only one other vegetarian besides myself. Statistically, about 40% of Indians are vegetarian. What’s with the scientists?… or maybe Bengalis? The director’s wife joined us later. She is a school teacher and she taught English and Hindi to grade 11 and 12 students…basically two official languages, although as we gathered fairly quickly, the Bengalis have their own language, use it and wish to keep it…. sound familiar? She was late grading papers from an exam earlier in the day and needed to finish and post grades. She described her students as serious students, over 80 in one class, 60 in another, and she enjoyed her job. They better be serious with that many high school kids in a class. I was exhausted after my first day, happy with the progress and happy to hit the hay that evening.

Day 3:  Feeling good…. more like a person after a good night’s sleep. Walked around the site with Bob Laxdal to make sure we understood each other on various priorities for the VECC test. The site is about 12 acres in size surrounded by either a fence or brick walls. VECC is in a residential area, with houses across the street, cars honking and people walking or cycling by all the time. Bob is the lead scientist for the test and is responsible for the schedule.

The day started off in the Director’s meeting room where we discussed further our plans for collaboration. It is the Year of India in Canada and we discussed having some kind of collaboration event later in the year in Canada. That would be nice. Our MOU requires us to meet once per year in each location and review progress. This is a way of making sure each side delivers what it agreed to do. In general, we are a little behind schedule and so we spent time discussing how to catch up before one of the “major milestones” March 2012, when we planned a joint beam test at TRIUMF which we refer to as the VECC test.

We then went to the conference room and the final presentations were made. In the late afternoon we drove out to the new 25 acre green field site near the airport with chief civil engineer and saw the first evidence of power being brought onto the site. Occupancy is still a few years away. Bob headed off to the airport and the rest of us went to dinner downtown. We discussed the VECC plan to add the first accelerating cryomodule (ACM1) after the ICM only after moving to the green field site. This means the tests at VECC will be limited to about 25 MeV….they seem happy with that.

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