I was thrilled to learn that the American Institute of Physics had awarded the Tate Medal for 2011 to Jean Trân Thanh Vân. Tran epitomises global science, and both physics (especially high-energy physics) and his native country of Vietnam are greatly indebted to him for his dedication to bringing leading physicists from around the world together, even when political realities created major obstacles. He was honoured at the annual award ceremony of the American Physical Society during their April meeting in Atlanta. I delivered my APS Past-President address in the same session, during which the 2011 APS Prize winners were also honoured.
The John Torrence Tate Medal for International Leadership in Physics is given every two years by the American Institute of Physics. The 2011 medal was awarded “in recognition of Trân Thanh Vân’s role spanning more than four decades in bringing together the community of physicists across national and cultural borders through the Rencontres de Moriond and Rencontres de Blois, and for his tireless efforts to build a modern scientific community in Vietnam.”
As described in the CERN Courier:
In 1965, Jean Trân Thanh Vân, a young researcher at Orsay, decided to organise an unusual scientific meeting for January 1966. The subject itself – electromagnetic interactions – was not particularly unusual, but the organisation was. The meeting was held in the French Alps in a group of chalets, with no catering help or assistance, few of the visual aids one associates with such meetings and, most importantly, without any telephone contact with the outside world (…) This was not a conference or a school, but a gathering (“rencontre”) of minds. The name of what became a series of meetings reflects this original motivation.
These meetings have became an important centrepiece for high-energy physicists, being unique in that they are attended by young and established researchers and in that they have the singular distinction of being a “winter meeting” where important new results are presented.
Jean Trân Thanh Vân was born in Dong Hoi, Vietnam, just north of the 17th parallel where the country was divided in 1954. He grew up in war-torn Vietnam, and as a thirteen-year-old left his family to study in Hué. Then, at the age of 17, he left Vietnam to attend university in France. But his identification always remained closely linked to Vietnam.
Following the end of the Vietnam war and the opening of Vietnam, Trân organised the first “Rencontres du Vietnam” to renew contacts between the Vietnamese scientific community and scientists from the rest of the world. I had the privilege of going to Vietnam in 1995 to participate in one of the first meetings. Following the meeting, Trân took us on a tour of Vietnam. Most memorable was our visit to a local orphanage. It opened our eyes to a completely different side of Trân and his wife. In 1970, they had founded the association “Aide à l’Enfance du Vietnam” to help Vietnamese orphans, and following the end of the war, they were instrumental in creating several centres for orphaned or homeless children. The orphanage we visited with Trân was impressive, filling a great need in rebuilding a country destroyed by years of war.
In recent years, Trân has dedicated himself to creating an important new international interdisciplinary centre in the heart of Vietnam, a crossroads between north and south, on an area of 20 hectares at the edge of the East Sea. The International Center of Interdisciplinary Science Education (ICISE) is aimed at young research scientists and engineers from different fields, exchanging ideas and experiences, in an atmosphere to develop their knowledge and themselves, much in the spirit of Trân’s “rencontres.”
The ICISE facilities are under construction, with construction completion and a planned first conference in July 2013. Trân has invited me to participate in this inaugural event and I very much hope to go back to Vietnam to do so, just one month after we formally submit our ILC Technical Design Report to ICFA.