The Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) was established in 1964, following a call for such an international institute dedicated to theoretical physics by Abdus Salam, Nobel laureate and then delegate to the IAEA 4th General Conference. Since then, more than 70,000 scientists, some 60% of whom have come from developing countries, have trained at the Centre in Trieste, Italy. The ICTP is currently operated as a joint programme by the IAEA and the United Nations Educational and Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). With the significant financial support from the government of Italy, the Centre's budget for 2001 is some $22 million with nearly half of that amount dedicated to the direct expenses of scientists from developing countries.
Professor Virasoro Theoretical physics is fundamental to all applications of physics and is a key component of basic science. As such, training and research in this area provide a foundation for further applications, such as the study of high-energy particles or the physical properties of materials. Additionally, a grounding in theoretical physics trains students in logic, scientific thinking, and problem solving that can be applied in any number of scientific disciplines.
According to the Centre's Director, Professor Miguel Virasoro, "training is done in research and through research" indicators.
The Role of Science in Development At the heart of the philosophy behind the ICTP is the relationship between the study of the fundamentals of science and fostering development, both directly and indirectly. Some of those trained at the Centre have gone on to become scientific leaders in their countries, contributing valuable expertise for locally-relevant research and development programmes. The research conducted at the Centre contribute not only to the growing body knowledge in areas of theoretical physics, but also provide opportunities for cutting edge research, which might otherwise be unavailable to talented young students in their own countries.
Today, on the opening day of the 45th IAEA General Conference, some 50 delegates attended a presentation on the wide range of activities taking place at the Centre. These activities not only address scientific issues in areas of direct concern to the Agency, but also provide an important training ground for thousands of scientists from the developing world. The current areas of activities include:
- Condensed matter physics is basic to much of the "high tech" innovations in telecommunications and, as such, training and research in this area is one of the largest activities at the Centre.
- High-energy physics explores nature at the smallest and largest scales through such disciplines as higher dimensional physics and astrophysics.
- Physics of weather and climate uses modelling to apply global weather changes to specific regions in order to provide a concrete basis for policy making and mitigation planning in developing countries
- Structured and non-linear dynamics of the earth also uses models and calculations to identify earthquake prone areas, study the potential impact of seismic activity, and predict earthquakes
- Synchrotron radiation related physics uses the synchrotron, one of the most valuable tools for conducting molecular research.
- Mathematics is the discipline linking so many of the interrelated studies that use statistical analysis and modelling.
Through visits by some 4000 scientists annually, 11 affiliated centres, fellowships, regional training courses, and 10 affiliated PhD schools around the world, the ICTP has become a unique meeting place for scientists from around the world to learn, to teach, and to further the contribution of science to human development. With so many countries now facing a steady stream of those leaving the nuclear field through a combined effect of retirement and decrease in university enrollment, the novel approach of the ICTP is today even more important than when it was first conceived, nearly 40 years ago.