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2009 Alumni Science Evening

The Large Hadron Collider, CERN and Mass in the Universe

Delivered by Professor Roger Cashmore CMG FRS, the keynote speech was a journey into the depths of the Swiss Alps to explore what is arguably the world's most ambitious scientific experiment to date.


Two of the big issues of modern science are the origin of the mass of the particles we see in the universe (accounting for 5% of the mass of the universe) and the nature of the remaining 95%.  The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN is designed to collide very high energy protons to produce new particles (possibly the Higgs Boson and/or Supersymmetric particles) which might have direct bearing on these questions.  To produce sufficiently energetic protons demands large scale facilities (accelerators and experiments) which push the boundaries of technology and which can only be achieved by the combined resources of the CERN member states and other participating countries from around the World.

In explaining the development of CERN and the LHC Professor Cashmore gave the audience a short master class in particle physics as well as a gripping account of the sheer scale and ambition of this extraordinary experiment.  In Professor Cashmore the evening could hardly have had a more fitting keynote speaker or indeed a more relevant topic to 21st century science and engineering.  An eminent physicist and Royal Commission Alumnus, Professor Cashmore received his 1851 Science Research Fellowship in 1968 for high energy physics research at the University of Oxford, so there is an elegant symmetry to his career in that he has now returned to Oxford as Master of Brasenose College.  But it was to his previous appointment, as the Chief Scientist of CERN, in Switzerland, that he returned for his gripping talk. 

Prior to the keynote address, four Royal Commission final year fellows presented their research projects:

Dr Anna Carruthers - Science and Engineering Research Fellow - Function of a leading edge flap in the wings of a Steppe Eagle   Anna is an aeronautical engineer who in 2007 received her Royal Commission Research Fellowship and became our inaugural Brunel Fellow, a distinction announced by Lord Broers at a dinner of the All-Party Science and Engineering Group in the House of Commons.   With a BEng in Aeronautical Engineering from Glasgow, an MSc in thermal Power and Fluids Engineering from UMIST and a PhD from Manchester on "the drag and flutter of aerodynamic decelerators", Anna's fellowship was awarded to "examine bird wing control devices for biomimetic engineering applications".

Dr Dominic Vella - Science and Engineering Research Fellows - The physics behind flexible electronics.  With a first class BA and Part III with distinction in Mathematics from Cambridge, Dominic received the Choate Memorial Fellowship for study at Harvard before returning to Cambridge for a Maths PhD at Trinity College and a Junior Research Fellowship, studying the Physics of floating and sinking.  His 1851 fellowship research project, being carried out at the Ecole Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielle in Paris, is entitled "Sticky structures:  From Gecko feet to capillary origami." 

Miss Sarah Hudson - Industrial Fellow - A Comparative Study Of Alloys And Platinum For Fuel CellWorking for the major speciality chemical company Johnson Matthey at its Technology Centre near Reading, Sarah joined them armed with a first class MChem degree with distinction from the University of York.  She is now doing her bit to save the planet, carrying out a PhD programme investigating platinum alloy catalysts for fuel cell applications.

Mr Chris Poczka - Industrial Fellowship - Steam Trap Acoustic Performance Sensor.  The age of steam, although long over on railways, is far from in the past.  Indeed steam is used in industrial and domestic heating systems worldwide and Spirax Sarco, for whom Chris works, is a world leader in the manufacture of steam system products, particularly to improve system performance and efficiency.  Chris has an MEng with honours in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Exeter and is working in Spirax Sarco's Research Centre to develop an innovative acoustic performance sensor for steam traps, the use of which could lead to significant efficiency improvements of steam systems worldwide. 



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