Dr. Ashot Chilingarian speaks to Armenian Cultural Foundation audience.

CYSCA Hosts Prof. Ashot Chilingarian


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — On April 17, the Cambridge-Yerevan Sister City Association (CYSCA) held its annual program for the Cambridge Science Festival, showcasing its special guest, internationally-famous Professor Ashot Chilingarian from Yerevan.

Chilingarian heads the Yerevan Physics Institute and its world-renowned Cosmic Ray Division, directing the International Research Center for High Energy Astrophysics, Space Weather and Atmospheric Space Weather. The main event was a panel discussion organized by CYSCA, and co-sponsored by the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Armenian Society.

A panel of six local experts joined Professor Chilingarian to discuss “New Perspectives: Lightning, Climate Change and Other Exciting Scientific Challenges.” There were about 100 participants, with more than 50 percent of those attending college age.

Mike Wankum, chief meteorologist at WCVB, moderated the panel discussion with creative, lively comments.

Chilingarian began his presentation explaining that at the Aragats Cosmic Ray Research Center, 3,200 meters above sea level, they measure secondary cosmic rays, products of particle interactions with terrestrial atmosphere. He explained that thunderclouds are full of water and radiation and that 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. He added that the location of the center is high up in the mountains in order 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 danger of nuclear weapons. The first test of nuclear weapons in New Mexico changed the world and began 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 equivalent. He also noted that explosives used in all of WWII wer only 3 million tons and that the US, UK and Russia have 20 nuclera submarines. There are problems: 1) too many weapons, thus an unstable balance could cause accidental nuclear war; 2) loose nukes, loose materials, thefts, proliferation, nuclear terrorism. What to do? First, ambitious arms reduction treaties and need technologies for security to verify the treaties. Second, he added, it is necessary to develop systems for weapon authentication, physical cryptography and the fingerprint of a weapon. Danagoulian favored the use of nuclear power for peaceful use. He also explained the  pros of nuclear power reactors for clean power with no carbon dioxide as well as the possibility for energy independence. He said the cons would be to spend money on fuel storage, allaying the fear of radiation as well as proliferation risks. He also noted that in Armenia, nuclear power provides 40 percent of the country’s energy.

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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, when inside, don’t use electricity. After lightning strikes, first, go inside another 30 minutes (finale). Second, cars (metal) are also safe but don’t touch conductors.

Dr. Ningyu Liu, Associate Professor of Physics and Space Science at University of New Hampshire, discussed transient luminous events caused by thunderstorms and lightning. He said that lightning can go to space; that transient luminous events such as jets, sprites, halos, etc. were discovered 25 years ago. He showed pictures taken of gigantic jets observed above tropical depression in 2013. He noted that sprites and their fine structures are caused by lightning.

Dr. Bagrat Mailyan, a post-doctoral student at the Florida Institute of Technology, discussed terrestrial gamma-ray flashes, lightning and geographical distribution (TGFs).

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 insulation. He indicated that global lightning and global warming have been in hiatus for 15 years from 1998 to 2013.

A second event featuring Chilingarian took place at the Armenian Cultural Foundation (ACF) in Arlington on April 22. Dr. Chilingarian discussed science education in Armenia. Introductions were made by Ara Ghazarians, director of ACF, followed by 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.

Chilingarian explained that the Cosmic Ray Center was founded in 1942 by brothers Abram Alikhanov and Artem Alikhanyan. The center has scientific publications that are recorded and presented but do not reflect the true numbers. It has the collaboration of 5,000 scientists. Now they have 332 employees.

Topics: CYSCA

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 has very modern, state of the art equipment, and includes engineers, technicians and students.

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.

Chilingarian said that they have international 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 followed by refreshments.

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.

CYSCA President Alisa Stepanian commented, “We are pleased to have had the privilege to host Professor Chilingarian in our area and hope that contacts we helped him make locally will aid him and his scientists in Armenia in their internationally important work. Also, we are indebted to former CYSCA Board member Joseph Dagdigian and his wife for hosting our guest.”

For more information about CYSCA visit www.cambridgeyerevan.org.