The first official day of the Ninth Nishina School started today. At exactly 10 AM, all the students and teachers at the Nishina School (12 students total and several ten teachers) gathered together in a large auditorium for the opening ceremony. However, the opening ceremony was less a ceremony than a procession of professors sharing information about their respective schools. Professor Shuangquan Zhang of Peking University represented China. Professor Seonho Choi of Seoul National University represented the Republic of Korea. Professor Hideto En’yo, also the director of the Nishina Center, represented Japan. Soon thereafter, Dr Sawako Hanyu, RIKEN’s director, expounded on RIKEN’s goals: one of which was to “serve as a focal point for global brain circulation.”
What made the entire set of events especially interesting was that the Nishina School did much to achieve that goal; people and scientists of so many different nations were present. Five university students from each of China and Korea attended. Us two USA students attended. Due to unfortunate events, no Japanese students were able to attend, but there were many Japanese professors. This was exactly a coagulation and comingling of brainpower from four different countries – which is strikingly similar to Exeter’s own goal of educating “youth from every quarter,” and allowing them to fuse their experiences into one another’s. With a cursory glance, this resemblance may seem like a strange coincidence. But, with further thought, the need for collaboration becomes inevitable. In the modern era, we see gigantic teams of researchers and engineers combine their efforts to create state-of-the-art machines and collect mountains of data to advance human understanding. Almost no recent innovations have been achieved by the classical impression of a lone genius working in a garage.
“Are you really high school students,” asked one of the Korean students. After the shock of our affirmative response disappeared from his face, he collected himself and told that he was, “very surprised to learn that we were still in high school.” We had never really thought about it before, but it is rather shocking once you take a step back and observe. What the heck are two seventeen year olds doing in a restricted nuclear research facility? Only then did it dawn upon us how out of place we were. Here we were, surrounded by advanced college students who have poured extensive energy into studying nuclear physics and some of the world’s leading nuclear physicists, without so much as a high school diploma. However, that feeling of smallness was almost magically dispelled when one of those advanced college students revealed that he was “pretty lost” by the difficult material used to explain how particle accelerators worked. It then dawned upon us that none of the students knew exactly what they were doing, and that all twelve of us would have to help each other understand – just like real science.
Fortunately, we were all taken for an actual tour around RIKEN’s cyclotrons, meaning that we actually saw those impressive machines up close. RIKEN’s cyclotrons are actually some of the best in the world. It’s newest one, built only a few years ago, can actually accelerate heavy ions like Zinc to 70% of the speed of light. Considering the size of the machine, only a few tens of meters across, and the fact that heavy atoms are so much harder to accelerate, that is amazing. Its largest particle accelerator, the Superconducting Ring Cyclotron, weighs 8000 tons, as heavy as the Eiffel Tower in France. A picture is worth a thousand words, so I will leave many pictures that show just how magnificent and powerful the particle accelerators are.