Ashot Chilingarian visits Cambridge

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – The Cambridge-Yerevan Sister City Association participated in the annual Cambridge Science Festival. They hosted two events showcasing Dr. Ashot Chilingarian from Yerevan, Armenia who is the director of the Yerevan Physics Institute and its Cosmic Ray Division. The first event was cosponsored by the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) and the MIT Armenian Society and was a panel discussion called New Perspectives: Lightning, Climate Change and Other Exciting Scientific Challenges, whig was held at MIT on April 17. Six specialists in lightning and climate change spoke, including special guest Dr. Ashot CHilingarian from Yerevan, Armenia who is the director of the Yerevan Physics Institute and its Cosmic Ray Division. CYSCA President Alisa Stepanian welcomed everyone and introduced Mike Wankum, the moderator for the evening. Mr Wankum is a chief meteorologist at WCVB Channel 5 Boston. The six panelists introduced themselves and spoke about their work.

Professor Chilingarian, director of the International Research Center for High Energy Astrophysics, Space Weather, and Atmospheric Particle Acceleration on Mt. Aragats in Armenia started his presentation with climate change. He explained that at the Aragats Cosmic Ray Research Center, they measure secondary cosmic rays, products of particle interactions with terrestrial atmosphere and talked about the origin of secondary cosmic rays. He indicated that particle detectors located in MAKET experimental hall on Aragats are 3200M above sea level. In addition, they continuously measure time-series of particle flux and their coincidences. He noted that thunderstorm observation is the origin of lightning. In conclusion, Prof. Chilingarian said that thunderclouds are full of water and also radiation and water vapor is the fuel for thunderstorms. He said lightning will strike far more frequently in a world under climate change. Also the increase of lightning flashes would lead to a higher number of wildfires. Why on top of a mountain? He said to get more particles from clouds which are located directly on the stations.

Dr. Areg Danagoulian, Assistant Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT, talked about nuclear security and elaborated on the field of danger of nuclear weapons. He gave a little history where on June 16th, 1945 some scientists from elsewhere detonated the first test of nuclear weapons in New Mexico which changed the world. He explained that from 1945-1986 there has been an arms race. In addition, he talked about the Nuclear “Triad” submarines where one submarine has 24 missiles and one submarine missile has 6 million tons of TNT equident. He also noted that explosives used in all of WWII is only 3 million tons and that US & UK & Russia have 20 submarines. There are problems: 1) too many weapons, unstable balance could cause accidental nuclear war; 2) loose nukes, loose materials, thefts, proliferation, nuclear terrorism. What can we do? First, need ambitious arms reduction treaties and need technologies for security to verify the treaties. Second, develop systems for weapon authentication, physical cryptography, fingerprint of a weapon. Mr Danagoulian leaned toward the use of nuclear power for peaceful use. He also explained the pros of power reactors for clean power with no CO2 and energy independence. He said the cons would be to spend fuel storage, the social fear of radiation and proliferation risks. He also noted that in Armenia, nuclear power provides 40% of Armenia’s energy.

Dr. Joseph Dwyer, Professor and Peter T. Paul Chair in Space Sciences at University of New Hampshire, introduced lightning and said that it is a big spark. He explained that lightning has large currents as wide as one’s finger, that lightning is the same temperature as the sun and it is made in thunderstorms. He also talked about lightning safety, saying that it happens 4 million times every day and there are 4-5 billion losses a year. How do we reduce our risks? First, go inside during thunderstorms. Second, inside don’t touch electricity. After lightning, first, go inside another 30 minutes (finale). Second, cars(metal) are also safe but don’t touch conductors. Third, don’t stand by a tree, don’t be a tree, don’t lie flat on ground Most important-don’t be electronically connected to the outside world.

Dr. Ningyu Liu, Associate Professor of Physics and Space Science at University of New Hampshire, discussed transient luminous events caused by thunderstorms & lightning. He said that lightning can go to space; that transient luminous events: jets, sprites, halos elves etc were discovered 25 years ago. He showed pictures taken of starters, jets & gigantic jets observed above tropical depression in 2013. He noted that sprites and their fine structures are caused by lightning. He also showed 2 videos of how sprites are developed, He explained that they are very brief, even though they look like fireworks, they are very complex. He went further to say that these structures can be made in a laboratory and they are smaller magna electronic force. As for halos & elves, they are triggered by lightning and faster magna electronic force.

Dr Bagrat Mailyan, Postdoc at Florida Institute of Technology, discussed terrestrial gamma-ray flashes, lightning & geographical distribution (TGFs). He explained that when people are looking for something, they end up finding something else and these are short events that last 200 micro seconds. He noted that it started in 1994 by Dr Fishman in tropical regions related to thunderstorms. He went on to say that 20 years later we have more information and that each year we get 800 TGF per year. He indicated that Africa has less TGFs perhaps because of its more land mass. In conclusion, we need more measurements to better understand the relationship of lightning, radiation and climate.

Dr. Earle Williams, Research Scientist, MIT, talked about lightning and temperature indicating that lightning has relation to temperature. He said that there is no thermometer in the tropics; thus, temperature is the same every day. He also noted that the atmosphere serves as an insulation. He indicated that global lightning and global warming has been in hiatus for 15 years from 1998 to 2013.

A second event took place at the Armenian Cultural Foundation on April 22 and solely featured Dr. Chilingarian discussing science education in Armenia. Introductions were made by Ara Ghazarian, Director of ACF, followed by Mr. Joseph Dagdigian who explained when and how he met Prof. Chilingarian.
The professor started his explanation about the Cosmic Ray research on Mt. Aragats in Armenia. It is the regional center for astro particle physics, space weather, and thundercloud atmosphere particle acceleration. The professor explained the decline in the physics education department in Armenia. He noted the decline for PHD candidates on age distribution. One of the problems is the change of generation of scientists in the 45-49 age group. Their institution was founded in 1942 by Abram Alikahanov and Artem Alikhanyan. The Center has scientific publications that are recorded and presented but do not reflect the true numbers. The center has the collaboration of 5,000 scientists but not all have the same contribution. Now they have 332 employees. They accept 100 young people but not all become scientists. The first expedition on Aragats took place in 1942. For 75 years, the center has continued measurements in almost all fields of Cosmic Ray Research. The Cosmic Ray Division of the Yerevan Physics Institute is very modern and is comprised of engineers, technicians and students. Prof. Chilingarian went on to say that in the last eight years, they have been doing work in thunder clouds. Does it have anything to do with global warming and volcanos? He said that there are big / small cycles where perimeters and atmosphere become very important. He noted that without lightning, there is no weather. One year in Armenia there was no sun for 1 1/2 months and no lightning for half a year with spring being late. In summary, Prof Chilingarian said that they have conferences for 50 people each year and summer school for high school where master courses are offered to the best 5-6 students. The informative evening ended with a question and answer session and light reception.

Professor Chilingarian visited various institutions during his stay, at which he made presentations to students including University of New Hampshire and Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He also visited the Boston Museum of Science and MIT’s Haystack Observatory.