When the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is switched on later this year, a computing student from the UK will help make sure things run smoothly in the IT department.
Lisa Williams, a BSc (Hons) Business Computing Management degree student at the University of Derby, has landed a year’s placement with CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, often described as the world’s largest and grandest science project.
CERN - the Organisation Européenne pour la Recherche Nucléaire, or European Organisation for Nuclear Research - includes the giant underground particle collider where, in 27 kilometres of tunnels, minute parts of atoms (the tiny particles which make up everything around us) are smashed together at immense speeds. It is hoped that as they further break apart, scientists will get a glimpse of how all matter in the Universe is built up.
In summer a new machine at CERN - the £4bn Large Hadron Collider (LHC) - will be switched on for the first time.
In a series of LHC experiments, scientists will seek to discover evidence supporting a much debated, but never proved scientific theory, that there is an invisible field binding together everything in the universe.
Scientists believe that glimpsing evidence of particles they think can be found in this field - particles termed the Higgs boson (after the physicist who came up with the theory), or sometimes the ‘God particle’ - would enable them to better understand the way matter and mass in the Universe are held together, and how they formed.
As a technical student in the Information Technology Department for CERN, Williams will be part of a group of international database administrators and software developers, working on the vast computing grid supporting a series of LHC experiments.
This grid relies on streams of information coming to it from ten computer installations, based in different parts of the world.
Williams will be part of the team ensuring that all this information comes in at the right time, is handled properly and that the minimum amount of time is lost if there are network failures, so that work is delayed as little as possible.
Williams said: ‘I’m very excited about being involved in this. I’d only vaguely heard about CERN before but, obviously, I’ve learnt a lot more about it since. The project is a huge thing for the physics community. I believe it’s something they’ve wanted to do for about 15 years.’
The UK’s involvement in CERN is funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). It provides grants to scientists and university research groups involved in the LHC experiments, as well as paying the UK's annual subscription to CERN.