The government has signed an International Cooperation Agreement (ICA) with CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, as part of its drive to take Thailand to the forefront of science.
A leading scientific organisation, Geneva-based CERN uses the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments to investigate the fundamental structure of the universe. Their mission has attracted many of the world’s foremost particle-physics scientists.
The International Cooperation Agreement (ICA) was signed by CERN’s director for international relations, Charlotte Warakaulle, and permanent secretary of the Science and Technology Ministry, Soranit Siltharm, in a ceremony presided over by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.
The ICA builds on a decade-long relationship and collaboration between Thailand and CERN. In the first initiative of Her Royal Highness, the first six memoranda of understanding (MoUs) were signed between Thailand’s universities and institutes and CERN.
Suvit Maesincee, Minister of Science and Technology, said the ministry will develop human resources as well as technology and innovation in line with CERN’s objective. This latest, higher level of cooperation is expected to open up more opportunities for Thai scientists to participate in world-class research and thus develop the country’s science capabilities, as well as further develop applied research to benefit the real sector.
Pairash Thajchayapong, secretary-general of the Information Technology Foundation, paid tribute to the Princess for initiating cooperation with CERN in 2000 and through five visits to the facility that led to six contracts between Thai universities and institutes and CERN. The Information Technology Foundation is an initiative of Her Royal Highness.
Warakaulle noted the three mutual elements of the ICA – strengthening Thailand’s scientific participation through working with CERN; training a new generation of scientists, engineers, technicians and teachers, and helping build Thailand’s capacity for science, and particularly in particle physics.
“The relations between Thailand and CERN have been strengthening over the past decade, with Thai scientists working in our two experiments, CMS and ALICE [A Large Ion Collider Experiment],” Warakaulle said. “This is the first government-level agreement that we’ve had. Previously, we had agreements with the universities and institutes in Thailand on their scientific participation.”
This latest government-level agreement is an important step and has raised the collaboration to a higher level. Similar agreements have been adopted by all 22 member states of CERN.
“It is a very significant step in relations between Thailand and CERN. And it allows us to have much deeper cooperation and to spread it much more widely, particularly once they come to the scientific exchange between CERN and Thailand,” Warakaulle added.
Given that this is a framework agreement, it is not yet possible to discuss the specifics of the scientific exchange, she said. There are three pillars to the ICA – to enhance scientific collaboration; enhance training and education for scientists, engineers, and teachers; and to increase capacity building. Though not yet detailed, the agreement opens up opportunities for developing the three areas.
Some scientists are already working on CERN-related research, but under the agreement more universities and their scientists will come on board, either joining existing groups or forming new ones, and strengthening the country’s participation in current experiments or working on new ones.
“We hope to see more Thai teachers, more Thai students come to CERN with these agreements,” Warakaulle said. “We would like to see a great outreach in particle physics and fundamental research here in Thailand. So, we cannot yet quantify that, but we can see the potential, this is the best agreement we’ve had for expanding the cooperation.”
CERN is a physics lab focused on using an accelerator to accomplish high-energy particle physics experiments. Thailand’s opportunity is to participate in particle physics experiments, which is on the very cutting edge of science today, and brings with it cutting-edge technological development. The cooperation has both a scientific component and a technological-development component.
“We really hope very much that the cooperation agreement, through strengthening its relationship with CERN, will open up for Thailand both experiments in particle physics and science, and also advance technology development.
Fundamental research is an important element in any country’s development, and this agreement is signed not only within the context of the momentum of particle physics research, but also that of fundamental research more broadly in Asia.
Thailand is deliberately joining in that momentum and consolidating its participation, because a strong base in fundamental science is needed for the country to continue to develop. It is important to have scientists working on fundamental research in order to later participate in applied research that draws on the fundamental research.
“There is a good balance between fundamental research and applied research – it is great science that adds to the dynamism of Thailand,” Warakaulle explained. “There is so much focus on fundamental research, we see that as very positive and very encouraging, and see real opportunities for Thailand to continue its development. It is a very important component of the healthy economy and healthy growth, and the long-term sustainable perspective for Thailand.”
The Kingdom has great potential to be the leader in the Asia region for fundamental research, and this cooperation now brings a framework allowing Thailand to develop that leadership, she says. With a lot of scientific research underway, Thailand will focus on specific areas and develop them to world-class status.
The agreement is the basis for Thailand and CERN to develop together, Warakaulle said, “and for Thailand to really take a step forward when comes to particle physics and also fundamental research more generally”,
Three key factors
Meanwhile, there are three important elements for Thailand. One is the government’s clearly strong support and that of the Princess, who is very engaged in this area.
The second is the international outlook in an era in which big science requires big intellectual collaboration.
Third is the vital need for the country’s institutes and universities to collaborate and ensure coherent studies, as is done under the CERN umbrella and other international collaboration.
“Strong government support, international outlook, and a strong course at the national level are really important,” Warakaulle said. “I think Thailand has all of that. Now we just need to continue.”
Meanwhile, Professor Emmanuel Tsesmelis, chief of associate member and non-member state relations at CERN, sees the ICA as a springboard to strengthen the cooperation between Thailand and his organisation.
“I look forward to a future together,” Tsesmelis said.
“The areas we continue to work together are in the science programme and technology development, R&D projects – we hope this ICA strengthens those areas. But it will also bring more young people to CERN to get training and develop skills in a high-tech environment. This is part of capacity building.”
And that capacity building now has recognition at the highest levels from the government of Thailand, and in particular the ministry, in terms of activities involving CERN and Thai scientists and teachers. The next step is to strengthen that institutional relationship.
One thing is certain, everyone agrees – the ICA will help Thailand develop its science and technology.