Ireland’s refusal to join CERN is puzzling and will affect physicists here – The Irish Times

Cern, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one of the greatest civilian scientific research organizations on the planet. It has produced 33 Nobel laureates and is home to the world’s greatest scientific machine – the Large Hadron Collider, a circular particle accelerator 26.5 kilometers underground, capable of closely recreating the first seconds in the life of the universe.

The Student Association of Theoretical Physics recently held a meeting at the dean’s residence at Trinity College Dublin to discuss how the issue of state Cern membership, which has been envisioned for decades, is somehow pushed onto the government’s agenda. Those in attendance included physicists, mathematicians, politicians, journalists, and government officials.

TCD Dean Professor Linda Doyle opened the meeting by thanking the people who had paid over many years for Cern membership. She said, “We have wonderful people in this room, brilliant people in Ireland who would be better able to use their talents if they had access to Cern’s equipment and facilities.”

She suggested that the best approach would be to lobby for associate membership now, with a goal of full membership in the long term.

For physicists, Cern is as good as it gets. This is where the answers to the biggest questions are found and where the spin-off technologies from this research, like the World Wide Web, can change lives for the better. It is an elite club for elite science practice.

Cern, with 17,000 physicists, engineers, and technicians working in various locations, yet all connected to each other, represents the largest, most complex and complex experiment on the planet.

Founded in 1954, to unite science and scholars across Europe, its members include all Western, Central and Eastern European countries, Scandinavia and some Baltic countries. In short, almost any country in Europe is remotely interested in pursuing cutting-edge particle physics. The case for accession seems to make sense for everyone across Europe, with the notable exception of the state.

The reasons for the government’s refusal to register for Cern’s membership – which would cost the region’s state €13.5 million annually, including a one-time payment of €16.8 million – are unclear. If it comes to funding, the costs should be seen in the context of the annual budget of €208 million in 2021 that goes to Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) – one public research body here.

The refusal to sign up for even the cheapest Cern affiliate membership – which will provide many of the benefits of full membership – at a cost of around €1.5 million is baffling. The question scientists want answered is: Why, for such a minimal cost, is the government preparing to distance researchers and the high-tech industry here from the obvious benefits that Cern will bring?

There are three large scientific bodies across Europe; European Space Agency (ESA), European Southern Observatory (ESO) and Cern. The state joined the European Space Agency in 1974, leading to the thriving domestic space industry we see here today. In 2018, the country finally joined ESO, after years of lobbying, and that has helped spur astronomy and the high-tech industry here.

However, there was no move to join Cern, despite the sense in the years prior to the pandemic that momentum toward membership was building. Many believe this has physicists disadvantaged here, who have to emigrate to do groundbreaking research, as well as students and postgraduates, who cannot apply to spend time at Cern, like their peers in the UK, for example.

Sinad Ryan, Professor of Pure and Applied Mathematics at TCD, noted that Cern, with 17,000 physicists, engineers, and technicians working in various locations, yet all connected to one another, represents the largest and most complex experiment on the planet.

“The motivation behind this is to enable particle physicists to understand the basic building blocks of matter and the world around us. Cern provides a deep understanding of the world, with huge benefits for science and society, in often unexpected ways; for example, the World Wide Web at Cern was invented as a medium for data sharing and communication.

The development of superconducting materials, magnets, advanced medical imaging technology and microelectronics stemmed from research at Cern. Additionally, “It is an inspiring place to visit, for children, teachers and scientists, and it trains the scientists and engineers of tomorrow and unites people in many countries.”

The vast majority of European countries, including Estonia and Latvia which have joined in the past six years, are full members of Cern. “When you look at the map of Europe and CERN membership, Ireland is pretty much out of the way by not being associated with CERN,” Ryan said, while agreeing that state affiliate membership should be pursued as a strategic first step.

Professor Holger Clausen, head of the Wireless Laboratory at the National Tyndale Institute at University College Cork, said the state, if it were a member of Cern, would be in a better position to find customers and applications for its technology. “Cern is the best in the world, and this can help Ireland find new clients and develop new applications for technology such as monitoring offshore wind farms. Membership can also bring benefits to undergraduate and postgraduate students.”

Cern is where the inspired young scientists are, said Michael Mitchell, a first-year Ph.D. student in physics at TCD and founder of the Theoretical Physics Student Association. “We know that up to 95 per cent of undergraduate physics students have been inspired by particle physics; I want my colleagues and superiors to have confidence that they can achieve their full potential in Ireland.”

Several speakers highlighted the lack of awareness of CERN among politicians. “It was noted in Dáil in 2014, regarding Cern who led to the invention of the internet, that the internet is coming anyway,” Mitchell said. “It just shows to what extent, in Ireland, we have fully taken our scientific discoveries for granted.”

Membership has been an issue going back to 2002, said Professor Samson Chachvili, head of natural philosophy at TCD, and the problem was trying to figure out how to take the final step. “It is as if there is a complete disconnection from the decision-making process in government.”

“There are very few jobs available at Cern and the competition is intense but as a member country you have the right to apply for these jobs”

It has been suggested that the political bloc over membership may be linked to the “old fear” of a nuclear slowdown somewhere, and that government funding agencies including the SFI should be seen as doing more on the issue. CERN’s work has nothing to do with military applications.

Regarding the benefits of associate membership, Ryan said Irish businesses could apply for contracts with Cern worth around €500,000, and jobs at Cern would open up to Irish researchers, while students and teachers could attend training and outreach courses there.

“There are very few jobs available at Cern and competition is intense but as a member state you have the right to apply for these positions,” Ryan said. “That changes – dramatically – the dynamic,” she said.

Schachvili said students from the Republic of Ireland were disadvantaged by his students in Northern Ireland, where students south of the border could not apply to spend a year or two at Cern, as part of a doctorate or master’s degree, while a student somewhere in the north could apply. .

It’s not just membership fees,” said Senator Fianna Fail Malcolm Byrne. I think if we’re going to join any organization on a multilateral level, we have to be prepared to commit to the kind of support back home that will allow people to interact with it.”

Peter Healy, a civil servant in the Department of Additional and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, said he was happy to hear people’s passion for membership and promised to hear the arguments for joining Cern.

He stressed that “there is no mechanism to prevent this.” “I assure you we listen to your argument, but you have to keep making the rounds. There was a strategic review about seven years ago that said Ireland needed to join five research organizations. We’ve joined some of them at this point, but this [Cern] Get on the waiting list.”

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