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ICTP, 1968

How events 50 years ago ensured ICTP's scientific prominence

June 1968: ICTP founder and Nobel Laureate Abdus Salam holds the key to the newly opened ICTP main building, which was inaugurated during the International Symposium on Contemporary Physics
June 1968: ICTP founder and Nobel Laureate Abdus Salam holds the key to the newly opened ICTP main building, which was inaugurated during the International Symposium on Contemporary Physics

07/06/2018 - Trieste

Prague Spring. Paris student riots. Political assassinations. Civil rights protests. Vietnam War.

The world lurched from one significant event to another in 1968, reflecting a time of political and social upheaval that would forever change the course of history.

The year marked an important turning point for ICTP as well. Although founded in 1964, the Centre's main campus near the Miramare Castle would not be ready until 1968. On 9 June of that year, ICTP's new premises opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by scientific and political dignitaries. More significantly, ICTP timed the ceremony to take place during one of the most important scientific events in its history: the International Symposium on Contemporary Physics.

The Symposium ran from 7 to 29 June 1968 and featured a star-studded cast of speakers, including 21 current and future Nobel Prize winners. The meeting's goal was ambitious: to review the whole of contemporary physics carried out by the world's leading scientists. Over the course of the three-week event, the more than 300 participants from 40 countries were treated to a physics festival of talks from all branches of physics. In Abdus Salam's words, "The intention was to acquire, if possible, a deeper sense of the scope and unified nature of the general subject--physics--by sharing the insights of its fascinatingly diverse disciplines".

 

View scenes from the International Symposium
on Contemporary Physics

 

The Symposium programme also included a series of lectures titled "From a Life of Physics", that were delivered by and in honour of six legendary elders of physics, five of them Nobel Laureates: Hans Bethe, Paul Dirac, Werner Heisenberg, Eugene Wigner and Lev Landau (talk given by Eugen Lifshitz). The sixth speaker, Oscar Klein, was a member of the Nobel Prize Committee.

Collage _Building 1968_600pxBy all accounts, the gathering was an overwhelming success. According to A Guide to the Early History of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics, written by Andre-Marie Hamende, ICTP's senior administrative and scientific information officer from 1964 to 1990, the event "put ICTP on the global scientific map serving as the 'symbolic' foundation stone of its scientific activities". Hamende adds, "The gathering marked the arrival of ICTP as a world class research centre dedicated to cutting-edge issues in physics and with the capacity to attract the world's most talented scientists. The symposium also indicated the Centre's emergence as a prominent crossroads for scientific exchange".

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