Professor Graham Shore visits the Vatican

Professor Graham Shore has just returned from the Vatican where he was an invited participant in the “International Symposium of Sub-Nuclear Physics: Past, Present and Future

Prof Graham Shore

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences at the Vatican, founded in 1603, is the oldest scientific academy of its kind in the world, pre-dating even the Royal Society of London.  Swansea physics professor Graham Shore has just returned from the Vatican where he was an invited participant in the “International Symposium of Sub-Nuclear Physics: Past, Present and Future” held in the Pontifical Academy's headquarters in the magnificent Casina Pio 1V in the heart of the Vatican Gardens. The meeting, which brought together a distinguished group of particle physicists including the directors of the major world accelerator laboratories, representatives of many of the leading experimental collaborations and two Nobel Prize winners, was convened to provide a perspective on the recent history of particle physics and look forward to future developments at the high-energy frontier.

Prof Graham Shore

Naturally, the symposium had a strong Italian emphasis and, in addition to discussing the potential discoveries at CERN's Large Hadron Collider, many presentations focused on research at the Gran Sasso underground laboratory near Rome. Gran Sasso is home to the OPERA experiment which recently created a worldwide media storm by announcing that they had measured the speed of neutrinos sent from CERN to be faster than the speed of light. In one of the most lively sessions, the possible experimental inaccuracies in the OPERA result were discussed and plans to repeat the experiment with a new CERN neutrino beam with improved time resolution were presented by former LHC project head and Swansea Honorary Fellow Lyn Evans.

Professor Shore's own research, carried out in collaboration with Prof Tim Hollowood at Swansea, also addresses the conceptual issues raised by superluminal propagation, though in the more esoteric sphere of quantum electrodynamics in curved spacetime. They have recently shown how the apparently paradoxical prediction of superluminal propagation of photons in curved spacetime can be reconciled with causality through a detailed understanding of how gravitational forces act on the cloud of virtual matter-antimatter particles that surround a photon, the quantum of light.*


Prof Graham Shore

As well as the stimulating scientific sessions, the Symposium offered participants a unique opportunity to experience the cultural treasures at the Vatican, the highlight undoubtedly being a private viewing of the Sistine Chapel while the Vatican Museums were closed to the public. Another notable excursion was to the Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri to see the recently inaugurated statue of Galileo designed by the Nobel Prize-winning Chinese particle physicist T.D. Lee.

The Pontifical Academy is an independent entity within the Vatican, defining its goals as being “to promote the progress of the mathematical, physical and natural sciences and the study of the epistemological problems related thereto”.  There are around 80 permanent academicians, comprising distinguished scientists of all nationalities, religions and fields of study. One of the primary activities of the Academy is the organisation of meetings of experts in fields as diverse as glaciology and stem cell research, providing an invaluable source of scientific information on which the Vatican and its various bodies can draw.

* For further information, see