On Wednesday 9 March 2016 Professor Dave Charlton, Spokesperson for the ATLAS Collaboration at CERN, delivered the latest EPS Distinguished Lecture. The event featured a roundtable discussion hosted by Professor Martin Freer, Head of School Physics & Astronomy, where 10 students from across the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences had the opportunity to ask questions to Professor Charlton on topics relating to his research and his career in a more personal setting. The lecture itself looked at the fundamental science conducted at CERN, the engineering involved to keep the world’s largest scientific instrument operational, and what’s next for the Large Hadron Collider. The evening closed with an intimate dinner hosting by Head of College Professor Andy Schofield and was attending by senior academics, students and alumni continuing the discussion. SATNAV, the University’s scientific journalism society, attended the entire evening and offer their insight into this most interesting event.
I had the great pleasure of being one of the attendees at the roundtable with Professor David Charlton prior to his lecture on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. This was a discussion for which interested students could submit a question to Professor Charlton, relating to his work and expertise. I found it an enlightening and informal experience – the latter thanks in part to the ever-present humour of Professor Martin Freer who was chairing the session. The students present were physicists, engineers and material scientists which was clearly to be expected, given the breadth of the subject matter. Thought-provoking questions were asked which ranged from the purely technical, to EU-political aspects of CERN (emphasising its international and collaborative nature), and even touching on PhD advice for particle physicists. Some may have taken the opportunity to alter their question from the one that they’d initially submitted - for fear that their original was too timid! I very much enjoyed the opportunity to speak with Professor Charlton and would recommend that other students take advantage of similar opportunities whenever another EPS roundtable is advertised!
Michael Woodley, 4th Year Theoretical Physics student
The latest EPS Distinguished Lecture with none other than with the globally acknowledged and well respected Professor David Charlton. ATLAS is one of the two main experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) that discovered and announced the existence of the Higgs boson in 2012. The LHC is the most complex scientific instrument in the world. What’s more, ATLAS is CERN’s largest collaboration involving more than 3,000 scientists from 174 institutes in 38 countries. Being spokesperson of such a large-scale experiment is not only an honourable and responsible position but also an extremely challenging one as he represents the entire collaboration in front of the media and the general public. We are very fortunate to have such an important and well regarded staff member at the University of Birmingham sharing ground-breaking research!
The room filled with fellow researchers from the School of Physics and Astronomy, undergraduate students from a range of EPS subjects, alumni, industrial partners, applicants to the University, and other enthusiasts – it was standing room only! After a welcome from the Head of College Professor Andy Schofield, Professor Charlton began his Distinguished Lecture entitled “Fundamental science with the world's largest scientific instrument: what's next at the CERN Large Hadron Collider”. He gave an interesting introduction to the Standard Model of particle physics, emphasising the importance of the Higgs boson. Although hearing it for the umpteenth time, there’s nothing like hearing it from the horse’s mouth and I am fascinated by its beauty and harmony, and how nature is created by all these most fundamental of particles and forces! Professor Charlton then continued to discuss the technology and working concept of LHC and ATLAS and how their data is analysed. He explained the challenges involved in such a complicated experiment and its further prospects, giving the audience an insight into the programme’s future plans. Time flies when such a talented, enthusiastic speaker talks about his interests! Clearly particle physics is not only hard work but also a lifestyle, philosophy, motivation for Professor Charlton.
After such an inspirational talk and Q&A session, we had the opportunity to relax with an informal drinks reception during which guests had the chance hold personal discussions with Professor Charlton and ask him further questions.
The lecture was very enjoyable and inspirational, offering us a comprehensible insight into the depths of particle physics research. It was fascinating to attend such an exciting lecture followed by even more interesting discussions on the prospects of science.
Julia Dancu, 2nd Year Physics student
The evening concluded with a dinner in the Vice-Chancellor’s hospitality suite in Muirhead Tower with an eclectic mix of guests and hosted by the Head of College Professor Andy Schofield. In attendance were senior academics, alumni, and representatives from EPS student societies. As the evening progressed, discussions opened into a forum for the whole table to contribute questions for Professor Charlton. Questions ranged from how much physics he does, to technicalities of the ‘trigger’ people who decide which data to keep from each LHC run, to refereeing of the papers produced. Particularly interesting was developing the concept of CERN as a mega-science project – seen in the amount of data to process, the number of authors on and quantity of papers, and the scale of investment in time, equipment and finance.
Many thanks go to Professor Charlton for his time, Professor Schofield for hosting us and to Grace Surman who beautifully organised the events.
Cecilia Caffrey, 3rd Year Materials Science and Technology student
To watch the recording of Professor Charlton’s Distinguished Lecture and to find out more about the series visit www.birmingham.ac.uk/eps/distinguished