Thoughts on CERN and NASA

I’ve been meaning to point out that you can view the slides used by the incoming Director General of CERN, Rolf Heuer, in his recent inaugural address to the CERN community here.

Rolf-Dieter Heuer

There are many interesting points, but one that comes across clearly is Heuer’s vision of CERN as a global centre for particle research. Of course, one could argue that it already is, but it’s clear from the presentation that the scope of the facility is expected to broaden even further. Fascinating that an inter-european project involving a handful of sparring nations has become so successful that it is now one of the world’s most successful centres for scientific research – and all the more reason for Ireland to join, as I have said many times in public and in the press.

It’s often said that CERN is the NASA of the particle world, but it’s actually more. Quite apart from the opportunity for scientists to work at a top-level facility, with top-level scientists, I think the international aspect of the project is important in itself – perhaps science can give humans a taste of how genuine co-operation of individual nations working in harmony can yield a result that is greater than the sum of its parts…

The world’s largest acclerator (LHC) at CERN under Geneva

Of course, CERN isn’t perfect and I think there are PR lessons to be learnt from the media coverage of the LHC startup:

(i) A spurious story of black hole creation was allowed to dominate the coverage

(ii) A serious technical setback ocurred in the full glare of maximum publicity (the consequence of a single faulty weld)

As a result of these, the general public saw the LHC first as a threat, and then as something that broke down at the first fence….hardly confidence inspiring.

In fact, I saw remarkably few articles in the press on the beauty of particle physics, or the ‘why’ of the experiment. One reason was that sporadic press contributors (like this one) couldn’t get articles accepted due to the sheer volume of articles on the topic by regular journalists (who knew little of the topic). Instead, the public were presented with repeated technical details that interested no-one.

Perhaps it is true that scientists do not convey the excitement of their work very well – but I wonder. I wouldn’t mind a shot at disproving this theory. I’m currently trying to persuade The Irish Times to run a regular column on cosmology and particle physics (The Puzzling Universe) and they seem interested ..we’ll see…


Filed under Particle physics

2 responses to “Thoughts on CERN and NASA

  1. Hi Doc.. I think the work at LHC is going to reveal some of the deep secrets of the universe in the years to come.
    It will all be worth it. Esp if we discover the god particle or how gravity works..

  2. cormac

    Yes Hoops, it will be great if the Higgs (or something like it) turns up in order to nail the Standard Model.

    Re physics beyond the SM,I’m hoping for evidence of supersymmetric particles – it would be a wonderful vindication of Dad’s work (see LOR tab), as well as a promising candidate for Dark Matter long sought by cosmologists