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.