Widening Balkan bridges in theory

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Twenty years ago, the participants of the UNESCO-sponsored Balkan Workshop BW2003 in Vrnjačka Banja, Serbia came to a common agreement on the creation of the Southeast European Network in Mathematical and Theoretical Physics (SEENET-MTP). The platform for the network was provided by the 1999–2003 Julius Wess initiative “Wissenschaftler in Global Verantwortung” (WIGV), which translates to “scientists in global responsibility”. Starting with a focus on the former Yugoslavia, WIGV aimed to connect and support individual researchers, groups and institutions from all over the Balkan region. The next natural step was then to expand the WIGV initiative to bridge the gap between the southeast region and the rest of Europe. Countries to the east and south of former Yugoslavia – such as Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and Turkey – have a reasonably strong presence in high-energy physics. On the other hand, they share similar economic and scientific problems, with many research groups facing insufficient financing, isolation and lacking critical mass.

The SEENET–MTP network has since grown to include 24 institutions from 12 countries, and more than 450 individual members. There are also 13 partner institutions worldwide. During its 20 years of existence, the network has undertaken: more than 20 projects; 30 conferences, workshops and schools; more than 360 researcher and student exchanges and fellowships; and more than 350 joint papers. Following initial support from CERN’s theoretical physics department, a formal collaboration agreement resulted in the joint CERN–SEENET–MTP PhD training programme with at least 150 students taking part in the first two cycles from 2015 to 2022. Significant support also came from the European Physical Society and ICTP Trieste, and the third cycle of the PhD programme will start in June 2024 in Thessaloniki, Greece.

Networking is the most promising auxiliary mechanism to preserve and build local capacity in fundamental physics in the region

Unfortunately, the general focus on (Western) Balkan states has shifted during the past few years to other parts of the world. However, networking is the most natural and promising auxiliary mechanism to preserve and build local capacity in fundamental physics in the region. The central SEENET-MTP event in this anniversary year, the BWXX workshop held in Vrnjačka Banja from 29 to 31 August 2023, marked the endurance of the initiative and offered 30 participants an opportunity to consider topics such as safe supersymmetry breaking (B Bajc, Slovenia), string model building using quantum annealers (I Rizos, Greece), entropy production in open quantum systems (A Isar, Romania), advances in noncommutative field theories and gravity (M Dimitrijević Ćirić, Serbia), and the thermodynamic length for 3D holographic models and optimal processes (T Vetsov, Bulgaria).

A subsequent meeting held during an ICTP workshop on string theory, holography and black holes from 23 to 27 October 2023, partially supported by CERN, invited participants to brainstorm about future SEENET–MTP activities – the perfect setting to trace the directions of this important network’s activity in its third decade.

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