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Dublin: 7 °C Wednesday 22 October, 2014

Column: Ireland is excluded from some of the world’s most fascinating scientific research

As a non-member of CERN, we are missing out on unique opportunities to collaborate with our European neighbours in cutting-edge work – as well as the revenue opportunities it brings.

Ireland for CERN

A STUDENT-LED campaign, “Ireland for CERN”, is launching this week. The campaign aims to lobby the Irish government to agree to fund membership (full or associate level) of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, known as CERN. It also hopes to demonstrate the benefits of joining to Irish businesses, to highlight the long-term economic benefits of membership and to educate the public about physics using engaging and innovative techniques.

One of the major benefits of CERN membership is the opportunity it provides to tender for contracts. Over €500m worth of contracts are offered every year, which can only be tendered for by member states. By not joining, Ireland is losing out on massive potential revenue. Taking a look at the current list alone, contracts range in areas from civil engineering to administration of health insurance – both areas where Ireland is strong.

Cutting edge research

Other main areas open for tender include computing/software engineering, electronics, catering and vacuum technologies. Ireland has a large presence of multinational technology companies including Intel, IBM and Microsoft, all of whom would benefit considerably from such contracts. The Irish government has specifically aimed to make the country one of the global leaders in Big Data. Approximately 15PB (i.e. 15X10^15 bytes) of data is generated annually at CERN, and as such, a large proportion of the contacts on offer are related to data handling and processing. These are precisely the areas in which the government wishes to expand our business horizons, and what better way to do so than to contribute to the most sophisticated international experiment in the world?

CERN is at the cutting edge of medical technology, and recently created a new Office for CERN Medical Applications, headed up by Steve Myers. The use of the ISOLDE facility at CERN for developing isotopes for clinical trials will be increased as a result, and a new biomedical facility will be built among countless other developments. Given Ireland’s strength in imaging systems, collaboration with this office would greatly benefit research groups such as UCD’s Diagnostic Imaging and DCU’s Centre for Image Processing and Analysis.

Theoretical particle physics research groups are, despite the dearth of funding, still going strong in TCD, NUIM, DIAS, UCD and NUIG. However, given the lack of CERN membership, it has been difficult to establish an experimental group within Ireland. There are a group of UCD physicists working on the LHCb experiment in CERN, but as yet this is the only tie that exists and membership is essential to ensure such groups receive essential funding and collaborate on a European-wide basis.

Education and outreach

CERN offers a fully-funded, three-week teacher training programme for participants from member states. This programme aims “to promote the teaching of physics, and, in particular of particle physics, in high schools”, to promote knowledge exchange between teachers, expose teachers to research and establish ties between CERN and various European schools.

It gives teachers the opportunity to visit experimental facilities, participate in various workshops and produce new teaching resources to take back to their home schools. This would be invaluable to Irish schoolteachers, and inspire future generations of students to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses.

CERN’s summer internship programme offers students the opportunity to assist research teams with their day-to-day work, while also participating in a series of lectures specifically prepared for them. The students get the chance to collaborate with international experts, visit the experimental areas and participate in poster sessions, workshops and presentations. While there is a specific application for non-member states, this tends to amount to a maximum of one Irish student attending in any given year. Membership would allow more of our students to participate annually, increasing their chances of future research opportunities.

Ireland is essentially excluded from collaborating

Undoubtedly CERN is a massively international organisation, employing just under 2,400 full-time employees and 1,500 part-time employees, and hosts some 10,000 visiting scientists and engineers, representing 608 universities and research facilities and 113 nationalities across the world. There are currently 21 member states, with an additional 4 associate members/candidates for membership. In addition there are seven observers; five countries, UNESCO, and the European Commission. Finally, there are 37 non-member states with cooperation agreements.

So, where does Ireland fit in this picture? Not only does Ireland lack membership/associate membership, but we do not even have observer status or a cooperation agreement! Essentially Ireland is excluded from collaborating on the overwhelming majority of work done at CERN, and importantly, we are missing out on unique opportunities to collaborate with our European neighbours and forge stronger international bonds. If Ireland were to become a member it would raise Ireland’s international profile and attract new students and companies alike.

The campaign will launch on Thursday 30th January at 12pm in the Science Gallery, with speakers including Seán Kelly MEP, Dr. Ronan McNulty of UCD (a CERN collaborator) and Diarmaid Mac Mathúna, head of client services at Agtel. The campaign is supported by politicians, academics, economists and various industry representatives alike.

For more information, follow us on Twitter @IRLforCERN, on Facebook “Ireland for CERN”, or visit the website at http://irelandforcern.org/.

Read: Ireland “risks lagging behind” by not having CERN membership

Column: A Universe Veiled in Darkness – dark matter, dark energy and CERN

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