ICTP celebrates 50 years

CERN is not the only scientific organisation to be celebrating a significant anniversary in 2014. Earlier this year, ESA turned 50, and last week it was the turn of the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics, ICTP, to blow out its 50 candles. I had the pleasure to be there for the occasion, and to take part in the first day of a four-day scientific celebration in which the true value of ICTP came to the fore.


Nobel Prize winning Pakistani physicist Abdus Salam established the ICTP in 1964, and went on to become its first director. The Centre’s mission was and remains to foster the development of international scientific cooperation and to promote scientific excellence with an emphasis on the developing world. Established outside Trieste, Italy, and operated under a tripartite agreement between the Italian government, the IAEA and UNESCO, the ICTP has proven itself true to that mandate and become a driving force for advancing scientific expertise around the globe.

ICTP alumni populate many walks of life, from research positions at major universities to policy roles in government, all of them striving to implement the ICTP’s ideals. Many of them were present for the celebration last week, which impressed as much through the diversity of the people celebrating the Centre as for the reminders of its scientific achievements.

All areas of science were represented, with Nobel Prize winners and former CERN Directors-General among the speakers, as well as upcoming scientists from further afield such as Marcia Barbosa, who recently spoke so compellingly at TEDxCERN. But perhaps the most telling tribute to the ICTP’s success in fulfilling its mission came from people like Ansar Parvez, Chair of Pakistan’s Atomic Energy Commission, and policy-oriented participants, such as Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, and Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, all of whom spoke on the opening morning about the importance of science to their countries. Because science is ubiquitous, it is the future for all of us, and cannot be simply the preserve of the developed world. That is what makes the ICTP such an important part of the global scientific landscape.

Rolf Heuer