Swansea and the big bang machine


Contrary to media speculation and scaremongering, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest and most powerful man-made particle accelerator, didn’t create a black hole or destroy the planet. But it was a moment that captured global imagination, and the University’s Physics Department was at the heart of the project.

In many respects, the Department of Physics exemplifies the internationalisation that the University seeks to achieve. Of the 23 staff in the Department, 14 joined Swansea from countries including Australia, Argentina, Sweden and Italy. Nine out of the Department’s 10 research staff are also from overseas - coming from as far afield as America, Greece and the Czech Republic – and a third of postgraduate students within the Department, are also from outside the UK.

Professor Graham Shore, Deputy Head of the Department explains that the Department of Physics has doubled in size in the last five years: “We are successful at recruiting internationally recognized researchers from some of the world’s top universities. As well as bringing a stimulating cultural mix to the School, the new staff have enhanced our range of international contacts and have attracted many visitors to Swansea.”

The LHC, a collaboration amongst many of the world’s leading particle physicists, has been built over 10 years at the cost of several billion pounds. It is designed to collide protons and anti-protons at very high energies to produce new particles, and is expected to recreate conditions that existed billionths of a second after time began, just after the Big Bang. The LHC’s main aim is to prove the existence of the elusive Higgs Boson particle, named after Professor Peter Higgs, who was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the University this year.

The project at CERN is headed by another Honorary Fellow, Swansea alumnus Dr Lyndon Rees Evans CBE, who previously designed much of the instrumentation of earlier particle accelerators at CERN. Dr Evans was named as this year’s recipient of the American Physical Society’s 2008 Robert R Wilson Prize for Achievement in the Physics of Particle Accelerators.

Swansea’s student community is also represented at CERN. Paris-born Physics student Gregory Moraitis is in the second year of his PhD, and is the first student from a UK university to be awarded a highly prestigious EU studentship with CERN’s Theory Division. Gregory, whose research involves carrying out computer simulations in order to understand certain aspects of the strong force, one of the four fundamental forces of nature, said: “This is the world’s most ambitious particle physics experiment of all time. Being at CERN at this time is an unforgettable experience.”

One of Gregory’s PhD advisers at Swansea, Dr Adi Armoni, said: “The success rate of winning this fellowship is about 10 per cent, and we are extremely pleased that Gregory was chosen this year. This is great news for the Physics Department at the University and of course for Gregory!”

Speaking about the Department’s international success, Professor Shore said: “Our seminar programme alone featured over 30 overseas speakers last year. Swansea researchers are also in demand at international conferences and workshops, and are heavily involved in research at CERN. The Department is now recognised as one of the leading research institutes in Europe in the fields of anti-matter and theoretical particle physics.”

For more information about Swansea's School of Physical Sciences, please visit their web pages: http://www.swansea.ac.uk/physical_sciences/