The contribution of Dimitris Nanopoulos and his research team to the production mechanism of the Higgs boson in 1975 was determinant for the further progress towards the recent discovery of the specific particle.
The distinguished professor of High Energy Physics and President of the Academy of Athens for the year 2015, refers to what is expected from the restart of the accelerator LHC at CERN, the joy of discovery, the people that have influenced him and his plans for the Academy of Athens.
Mr. Nanopoulos, could you briefly refer to the object of your research?
I am a theoretical Physicist. Physicists are divided into theoretical and experimental physicists. Theoretical physicists create theories, while experimental physicists try to confirm or disprove theories. I work on the so called high energy physics or else elementary particle physics. In the meantime I am occupied with cosmology and astroparticle physics. Our goal is –based on exprerimental data – the creation of a theory, the so called theory of everything. Through this theory we are trying to provide a scientific explanation of the world, how it appeared, how it evolved and how we have come up to this point. At this moment, there are a lot of experimental data not only from CERN but also from satellite telescopes.
Where do the research findings apply?
The application, in the strict sense of the term, will need several years to be realized. I am sure that if someone asked the theoretical physicist Paul Dirac, – when he understood from the equitation that he derived in 1927 that antimatter exists (it was discovered later in 1932 by Anderson-), he would answer: we can read nature, but don’t ask more.
However, let’s come to the present day in the field of medicine. The PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scanner plays a very important role in the field of medicine for the cancer detection in humans. This scanner does nothing more than using antimatter, which is produced by radioactive materials in the human body, and wherever there is denser matter, as it happens in tumors, the dematerialization between matter and antimatter is more often and that’s why the image is darker. So wherever there are tumors, the image of the tomography is darker.
The progress in the field of medicine is the result of physics and technology.
You have been one of the researchers that a few years ago contributed to the discovery of the Higgs particle. What do we expect from the restart of the LHC at CERN and also from the collisions of elementary particles in May with twice as much energy as in the past?
We expect the discovery of supersymmetry, namely a new form of matter, which is suspected to include the neutralino as well, whose existence we suggested in 1982, and which seems to be the main component of dark matter, that is the 23% of the universe.
Which is the position of Greece in the field of research, what can Greece offer to other European countries and what can Greece derive from them?
Our comparative advantages are that Greeks are smart, having imagination, excitement and also the will to do things and they prove that abroad, where they study or work. However, we lack organization, funding and professionalism. And it doesn’t concern only the field of research.
Which moment in your research career made you feel complete with something that you discovered?
After having written the paper on the Higgs particle, the same team wrote a paper on the so called grand unified theories. We proved in 1976 that there are 6 quarks at maximum, which could exist. Then there was controversy. But we were right. And we knew it. We had made an unbelievable connection. We were content not for the number 6- either way it hadn’t been proved- but for the fact that we managed to get to this result through such a complicated theory. It was indisputably proved between late 1989 and early 1990, at LEP of CERN. The joy of discovering something is based on the fact that we realize it cannot be otherwise. The proof might not exist at that particular time, but other ways are excluded. You should have all the inner culture to understand this. Of course we should not fail to mention that there have been lower moments in my career, as well. A great deal of work is required.
Has there been a scientist, who consisted a source of inspiration to you?
Richard Feynman has been a role model for me. He was a great theoretical physicist, awarded with the Nobel Prize of Physics in 1965. This man had an amazing transmissibility, he was well known and likeable by people. What I also liked in this person was that he was an artist as well. I always considered him as a mentor and it was a great pleasure for me to meet him. There was a mutual liking.
In fact, when I was still young, at the end of the decade of 1979, during the period when I was at Harvard, I was honored to be invited to talk in the event for the celebration of 60 years of Feynman.
Another role model for me was Enrico Fermi, even though I have never met him. In 2009 I managed to be awarded with the Fermi prize.
Could you specify the role of the Academy of Athens in modern Greek reality?
I would say that the Academy of Athens is quite misunderstood. It consists the highest spiritual centre of Hellenism. It has action, which is not diffused though. It produces work through its several centers and it consists of notable people in science, poetry, literature and art. However, we should wonder in the same way not only about the work of the Academy, but also about the work of the University. Emphasis should be laid upon the communication part and the diffusion of the work abroad. I am trying to make the Academy more open and well known to the general public and bring the people in contact with it. I have organized a series of events. Academy should not be just a beautiful building in Panepistimiou Street. I want it to be alive.
The interview was originally held in Greek while it has been also translated in English and was first published in Science View