Science week, Walton and the LHC

This week is Science Week in Ireland, a week of events designed to get schoolchildren and adults interested in the world of science. There are all sort of events, lectures and activities are going on all over the country – you can see a list on the website. Here in the southeast, CALMAST, the WIT Center for the Advancement of Learning of Maths, Science, and Technology, are doing their usual super job, with exhibitions, science shows and lectures…see the program above.

My own contribution was a lecture on the LHC for secondary schools this morning (you can see the slides here). I’m giving a similar lecture to the public in the neighbouring town of Dungarvan tomorrow evening , with one crucial difference. Dungarvan is the birthplace of Ernest Walton – as in Cockcroft-Walton, the team that built the world’s first successful particle accelerator and used it to split the atomic nucleus. Their accelerator was the precursor modern accelerators and is still used as a pre-amp today (I’m told there is a mock up of the original somewhere in CERN, must check this). Anyway, I intend pitching this particular LHC lecture as Walton’s legacy.

The Cockroft-Walton experiment  was a spectacular success, given that the energy they used was relatively low. Not only did it offer a nice verification of E = mc2, it was also a convincing demonstration of quantum tunelling – George Gamow had visited the Cavendish a few months earlier, and convinced Rutherford that they might succeed at low energy. There is a nice description of this story in the book ‘The Fly in the Cathedral’ by Brian Cathcart.

Ernest Walton: Ireland’s only Nobel in physics

In between these two lectures, I’m driving to Cork to catch the highlight of the week – Anton Zeilinger is giving a talk on quantum entanglement and its applications…wow. More on this tomorrow.


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