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HISTORY--Then and Now

The Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP): Through the Decades

"Scientific thought is our common heritage." This sentiment, often expressed by ICTP's founder and long-time director, Abdus Salam, has inspired the Centre since its inception in 1964. Created during the Cold War in the heart of Europe, a continent separated by the iron curtain, ICTP provided a rare line of communication between scientists from the East and West. Later, ICTP emerged as a focal point of co-operation between the North and South, aiming to help scientists from developing countries overcome their isolation and contribute to state-of-the-art research in physics and mathematics.
Each year ICTP welcomes about 4,000 scientists to its campus, which is located at the edge of the Adriatic Sea seven kilometres from downtown Trieste. Of the 80,000 scientists (from 170 countries and 45 international organizations) who have participated in Centre activities since 1964, 70 percent have come from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe.
Each year the Centre organizes about 40 schools, conferences and workshops on subjects ranging from elementary particle physics to cosmology, condensed matter physics to material science, mathematics to computational physics, geophysics to climatology, biophysics to medical physics, laser physics to nonconventional energies. Some Centre activities are organized in developing countries. Since 1985, ICTP has awarded the Dirac Medal to some of the world's most prestigious theoretical physicists and mathematicians.
ICTP places two fundamental support services at the disposal of its scientists. The Centre's library—containing more than 100,000 volumes and 900 journal subscriptions—offers visitors one of the largest collections of literature in physical and mathematical sciences in Europe. The ICTP computing section, meanwhile, is connected to ever-expanding global computer networks.
ICTP is funded largely through generous contributions made by the Italian government, which has served as the ICTP's chief benefactor since the Centre's inception. ICTP operates under a joint administrative framework established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). UNESCO takes the lead in this relationship.
The purpose of this presentation is to provide a brief look at the Centre, whose past and present has been intimately linked to Trieste and its scientific and cultural institutions. <Back to top.

Our Scientific Banner: the "Track" of the W Particle
The red arrow (right) points to the "track" generated by the decaying W boson in a particle detector at CERN, the European centre for high energy physics in Geneva, Switzerland. This computer image, detected in 1983 by a team headed by Carlo Rubbia, shows colliding proton and antiproton beams in the underground SPS (Super Proton Synchrotron) ring, then the largest particle accelerator in the world. Discovery of the W particle (and subsequently the Z particle) confirmed Abdus Salam's theory of its existence, which unified two of the four fundamental forces of nature—the electromagnetic force that drives electrically charged particles, and the weak nuclear force operating within the atomic nucleus.
The Nobel Prize for Physics awarded to Salam in 1979 and later to Rubbia in 1984 confirmed the importance of the discovery. For this reason, we have made the "track" of the W boson the "scientific banner" of ICTP with a series of posters on permanent display at the ICTP Main Building. <Back to top.
ICTP Today ICTP Yesterday

The Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) has served as a global crossroads for the exchange of scientific research in the fields of theoretical physics and mathematics. It has also provided a unique forum for the training of young scientists from developing countries. About a thousand ICTP Associates, who enjoy a particularly privileged relationship with the Centre, have helped nurture the birth and development of numerous scientific communities throughout the Third World. <Back to top.

June 1960. The Department of Physics at the University of Trieste organizes a seminar on elementary particle physics in the Castelletto in Miramare Park. The notion of creating an institute of theoretical physics opened to scientists from around the world is proposed. That proposal becomes a reality in Trieste in 1964. Pakistani-born physicist Abdus Salam, who spearheaded the drive for the creation of the ICTP, becomes the Centre's director, and Paolo Budinich, who worked tirelessly to bring the Centre to Trieste, becomes ICTP's deputy director. After four years in downtown Trieste, ICTP moves to its permanent location next to Miramare Park in 1968. <Back to top.
The VIPs of Physics
Throughout its history, ICTP has welcomed some of the world's foremost physicists to its campus. J. Robert Oppenheimer, scientific director of the Manhattan Project in the United States during World War II, was an influential voice in the creation of the Centre and the first chairperson of ICTP's Scientific Council. Nobel Laureates Werner Heisenberg, who formulated the uncertainty principle, and Paul A.M. Dirac, who predicted the existence of antimatter, were also enthusiastic supporters and frequent visitors to the Centre. In all, some 50 Nobel Laureates have lectured at the Centre as well as many other prestigious scientists in fields ranging from elementary particle to solid state physics and mathematics to astrophysics. <Back to top.
Nobel Prize Comes to the Centre ICTP's "Foreign Relations"
In 1979, Abdus Salam, first director and founding father of ICTP, shares the Nobel Prize for Physics with Steven Weinberg and Sheldon Glashow, both from the United States, for the mathematical and conceptual unification of two of the four forces of nature—the electromagnetic and weak nuclear forces. The theory is subsequently confirmed by experiments carried out by Italian physicist Carlo Rubbia at CERN in Geneva, who is awarded the Nobel Prize for his efforts in 1984. <Back to top.
Trieste's global ambassador of science, Abdus Salam meets dozens of presidents, monarchs, prime ministers and religious leaders as head of the ICTP. In his conversations, he tirelessly promotes science as a fundamental force for social progress and peace among nations. <Back to top.
Abdus Salam in Memoriam Changing Times
Abdus Salam dies in London on 21 November 1996, more than two years after he resigns as ICTP director for health reasons. Newspapers from around the world report his death. Coverage in Italy, Great Britain and Pakistan is extensive.
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Argentinean-born Miguel Virasoro, professor of theoretical physics at the University "La Sapienza" in Rome, is appointed ICTP's second director, in 1995. Several months later, on 1 January 1996, primary administrative responsibility for ICTP is transferred from IAEA to UNESCO. On 21 November 1997, one year after the death of Abdus Salam, ICTP changes its name to The Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics to honour the name and spirit of its founding father. <Back to top.
Looking Ahead


Under the direction of Miguel Virasoro, ICTP strengthens its ties with other international scientific institutions in Trieste, particularly the Elettra Synchrotron Laboratory and the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB). New groups on the physics of weather and climate and synchrotron radiation theory are formed. Courses, conferences and workshops in emerging physics- and math-related fields are organized, including the theory of complexity and conceptual uses of theoretical physics in studies of economics and environment. National and international press clippings describe new avenues of research at the ICTP. <Back to top.
Last update 7/10/2003
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