Unknown to most a new Indo-American collaboration with outcomes that can change the way we view life itself, this billion dollar project seeks to address some of the most fundamental questions.
Nigel Lockyer, director of the iconic Fermi National Accelerator Lab in Chicago and the man credited with spearheading the discovery of the fundamental particle 'Top Quark', explains how his facility and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Mumbai have embarked on making a novel accelerator that could one day even lead to the creation of designer human beings, while on the way it may also help India tap its vast thorium reserves for a clean energy nirvana.
The billion dollar Indo-American collaboration seeks to address some of the most fundamental questions about life and promises outcomes that can change the way we view life itself. Excerpts from an interview:
What is the present state of our understanding of the universe?
We have barely scratched the surface for an understanding of the universe, the nirvana of science in the future is going to be in the next 20-30 years when major discoveries are likely.
At present, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre is collaborating with the United States to develop a new type of accelerator that uses super-conducting technology.
This new accelerator will have many applications and one of the applications is called a free electron laser which allows you to look at the behaviour of soft materials at a very small time scale. Like say, in Femto-seconds these are trillionth of a trillionth of a second and during that time you are able to see proteins inside of a cell opening up and you can determine its structure.
Which means getting to understand what life is?
Yes, understanding life, understanding the cell, understanding the basic building blocks of life (which are enzymes), understanding reactions within the body, understanding everything. This is the beginning of big campaign which may last a hundred years of trying to understand the body in detail.
So what will the understanding lead us to?
They are going to take this new knowledge and tweak it, and just like we engineer plants today, we would be engineering new materials, these would change the life, change the way we get the energy and change the way we look inside the body and life.
We will start engineering the body itself. The future of science will be making our lives better, and we will use the technologies we are developing today jointly with India to make a big difference to the world.
Would that include engineering human beings in the future, designer human beings?
Yes, designer clothes and designer human beings are definitely the future.
Do you think Indian and American scientists can together create better human beings?
Indian scientists and Indian businessmen are already walking that way now and there will be a continuum in the future. The young Indians will all be excited by these possibilities.
What is this project that India and USA are embarking on to utilize India's vast thorium reserves?
The project is an accelerator technology project, driven by India's Department of Atomic Energy on one part and with Fermi Lab. They are getting together to design a couple of accelerators using the latest technology which will impact materials science and energy generation.
This accelerator that BARC and Fermi Lab will make to try and tap energy from thorium, has it been attempted anywhere in the world before?
This is a United States of America and India partnership we are working together on it. This thorium energy utilisation is the goal on the Indian side of the collaboration, whereas the American goal is to use similar accelerators to understand the basic physics of fundamental particles of matter.
The accelerator that will be jointly developed will use the latest technology and some extra technologies need to be developed. So it is research and development that will drive India into a new space, called 'Accelerator Driven Systems' (ADS). This will be the state-of-the-art accelerator that uses super conducting magnets to derive the energy of the future.