Ireland's proposal for CERN membership offers unique opportunities for University of Galway

Located 100m below the French village of Ferney-Voltaire, CERN's 5600 tonne Large Hadron Collider beauty (LHCb) experiment is used to probe matter-antimatter asymmetry by studying the properties of b-hadron subatomic particles. Beams collide at the right hand side, with collision fragments spraying out leftwards to be collected by detector instrumentation that fills up most of the cavern, which has the same dimensions as the nave of Galway Cathedral. Credit - Dr Aaron Golden.
Feb 08 2024 Posted: 14:36 GMT

A University of Galway delegation has taken part in a national fact-finding mission as part of Ireland’s proposal for membership of CERN – the European Organization for Nuclear Research, where physicists and engineers are probing the fundamental structure of the universe. 


Professor James Livesey, University of Galway’s Vice-President for Research and Innovation, and Dr Aaron Golden, Vice-Dean for Research and Innovation, at the University’s College of Science & Engineering, visited the world's largest particle physics laboratory as part of an Irish delegation.


An intergovernmental organisation based in Geneva near the border between Switzerland and France, CERN has 23 member states. Almost 3000 people are employed on the huge campus which every year plays hosts about 12,000 people from scientific institutions from more than 70 countries.


CERN currently operates the most powerful particle accelerator in the world, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), where proton beams moving at a fraction of the speed of light are smashed together, recreating, for an instant, explosions of energy that have only ever occurred at the origin of the universe, unlocking the fundamental constituents of matter. Vast experiments sweep up the blizzard of fragments, and painstakingly identify new physics - in the form of new types of matter. 


Work at CERN has resulted in no less than 5 Nobel prizes to date, most recently for the discovery of the Higgs Boson in 2012. 


Professor James Livesey, Vice-President for Research and Innovation, said: "This visit really emphasised to us all on the delegation the incredible value to University of Galway that Irish membership of CERN would bring, across so many levels. It is difficult to identify any other scientific facility in Europe that is such a source of wonder and inspiration and CERN's outreach mission is second to none. The creativity in physics and mathematics essential to understanding the most fundamental science possible using the LHC is mirrored in the creativity needed by the engineering and technical teams to build and operate these astonishing 'discovery machines'. Having Galway in the community of practice around CERN would make us members of one of the most creative and innovative groups in the world.”


The Irish delegation took part in a day-long visit to CERN, including tours of several of the currently operating particle and nuclear physics experiments on the campus, along with presentations and Q&A sessions with CERN personnel, highlighting the breadth of activities to which membership would give access to.


Beyond its core mission of pushing the frontier of fundamental physics, CERN is heavily involved in the application of technology transfer to areas as diverse as algorithm development, network and computational infrastructure, materials science and medical physics. 


CERN operates a unique access programme for members, that provides funding for undergraduates, postgraduates and researchers to visit and work on site in areas that cover the full spectrum of its activities, with the graduate engineering training programmes being widely considered one of the best in Europe. 


Dr Aaron Golden, Vice-Dean for Research and Innovation, College of Science & Engineering said: "It was eye-opening to find out directly CERN's medtech innovation activities, from novel radiotherapeutics to medical device development to tumour biology modelling, and their support of member state colleagues in these areas. The University of Galway is uniquely placed to engage with such access, particularly with the recent opening of UHG's Saolta Radiation Oncology Centre."


CERN will be sending a delegation to visit Ireland in April of this year to assess Ireland's application for membership. 



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