The Universe’s Lego Bricks — Professor Lee Thompson — 31st June — 2014

By way of intro­duc­tion Lee sug­ges­ted that there were two fron­ti­ers of Physics – the very large (astro­phys­ics) and the very small (particle phys­ics).  Lee’s research is look­ing at matter in its smal­lest dimen­sions.

He pre­sumed that many of his audi­ence had stud­ied O level phys­ics and reminded them of Thomson’s dis­cov­ery of cath­ode rays in 1897; Rutherford’s dis­cov­ery of alpha particles in 1909 and his con­clu­sion in 1911 that the atom has a nuc­leus.  To exam­ine what lies within in a nuc­leus is very dif­fi­cult as it is very res­ist­ant to being split.  This is why CERN is so import­ant.

At CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, phys­i­cists and engin­eers are prob­ing the fun­da­mental struc­ture of the uni­verse. They use the world’s largest and most com­plex sci­entific instru­ments to study the basic con­stitu­ents of matter – the fun­da­mental particles. The particles are made to col­lide together at close to the speed of light. The pro­cess gives the phys­i­cists clues about how the particles inter­act, and provides insights into the fun­da­mental laws of nature.  At Geneva a cir­cu­lar tunnel 27 kilo­metres dia­meter has been dug and within it are huge particle accel­er­at­ors and detect­ors.  3,000 sci­ent­ists from around the world are cur­rently involved in this pro­ject.  Lee was based in Geneva for sev­eral years under­tak­ing research into the prop­er­ties of Neutrino particles

Protons are col­lided and there are elec­tro­mag­netic calor­i­met­ers, Hadronic calor­i­met­ers and Muon detect­ors to exam­ine the events.  An immense quant­ity of data is pro­duced in a mil­lionth of a second and spe­cial com­puter sys­tems have been pro­duced to handle this.  The World Wide Web (Sir Tim Berners-Lee) is a direct result of this research as are most of the latest high tech. machines used in our hos­pit­als.

Lee’s talk touched on the Higgs boson elu­sive particles as well as explain­ing what is a Neutrino and why he is involved with a facil­ity where neut­ri­nos are dir­ec­ted across Japan and col­lec­ted in a vast vessel buried under moun­tains.  Neutrinos have no elec­trical charge and only react to weak nuc­lear forces and go straight through prac­tic­ally everything.

This bril­liant talk was very well received as it helped a lay audi­ence to have an ele­ment­ary under­stand­ing of a whole area of sci­ence that is very rel­ev­ant to our lives.