Sheila Rowan reports back on Cockcroft and Walton tour in India

8 February 2016

Professor Sheila Rowan delivered a series of talks in India from 29 October to 8 November 2015 as the 2015 Cockcroft and Walton lecturer at the joint invitation of the Indian Physics Association and the Institute of Physics.

IIT Madras

Her subject was the search for gravitational waves and the lectures were hosted by the University of Delhi/the Inter-University Accelerator Centre (IUAC), Delhi, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay, IIT Madras and the Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology (RRCAT), Indore. Professor Jim Hough also took part in the visit, to represent the IOP and present its portfolio of activities, and to extend existing links in the area of gravitational physics between the UK and India.

Rowan said: “At IUAC we toured the accelerator centre, where the considerable investment in India in basic science and technology was very apparent. At the University of Delhi we met colleagues in the Department of Physics and Astrophysics and visited the teaching labs in experimental optics. It was stimulating to renew acquaintances with colleagues who have a long history of working in the gravitational waves field, stretching back to visiting Glasgow in the early 1990s, working on analysing the data from the first-ever coincident run between laser based prototype interferometric gravitational wave detectors.

“At IIT Bombay (Mumbai) and IIT Madras (Chennai) we had the opportunity to meet academics and, most importantly, undergraduate and master’s and PhD students, and talk to them about research and education in India and the UK. IIT Madras has a very active student chapter of the Optical Society of America, whose members hosted the visit on the first afternoon and organised a question and answer session with afternoon tea. We were extremely impressed with the obvious talent and enthusiasm of the students, covering interdisciplinary topics across physics, astronomy, engineering and biology. We were also delighted to meet undergraduate students who had spent time working with some of our colleagues in the LIGO project at Caltech on summer research fellowships and who are now considering opportunities internationally for PhD studies.

“The final lecture was delivered at RRACT, where we met researchers working in optics and photonics relevant to the next generation of gravitational wave detectors. This cemented prior links relevant to research in Glasgow and the UK, and stimulated new contacts, bringing the work of the IOP to an international audience.”

The Cockcroft and Walton lectures are part of a scheme to strengthen co-operation between the two organisations, with lectures being delivered in alternate years in India by a Great Britain- or Ireland-based physicist (the Cockcroft and Walton Lectures), and in Great Britain or Ireland by an India-based physicist (the Homi Bhabha Visiting Lectures).

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