Skeptics in the Pub: Phil Allport

Dr Phil Allport

Liverpool and the Large Hadron Collider

by Phil Allport
When: Thu, Jun 17, 2010 8.00 – 11.00 PM
Where: The Vines (aka the Big House), 81 Lime Street, Liverpool


The Large Hadron Collider is the world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator. It was built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) with the intention of testing various predictions of high-energy physics, including the existence of the hypothesized Higgs boson.

Dr Phil Allport will be talking to the MSS about the involvement of Liverpool and other UK universities in the design and construction of the LHC experiments, as well as the schedule for the accelerator’s projected 20 years of operation.


Dr Phil Allport leads the Liverpool Particle Physics Group (one the three largest in the UK) and is Director of the Liverpool Semiconductor Detector System. He also chairs the UK Institute of Physics High Energy Particle Physics Group. Internationally, he jointly leads the ATLAS Experiment Tracker Upgrade Project at the LHC and is a member of the ATLAS Experiment Upgrade Steering Group and Project Office.

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  1. #1 by Stu on April 27, 2010 - 16:16

    Am I alone in not really getting the LHC? Billions of pounds – and counting – spent, thousands of scientists working on/in it and all to find out about something that might not exist. Plus, even if we do find out it won’t make any difference to the average person or feed antone!

    Surely this is akin to supplying starving people with audio bibles.

    That money and those scientists could – and should in my opinion – be put to better use finding solutions to global warming, AIDS etc, etc, etc.

    Before anyone accuses me of being a Luddite I should point out that I think it’s something we should find out about. However, we have more pressing things to worry us. We have five billion years before the Sun blows up and the Andromeda galaxy collides with the Milky Way so there’s plenty of time. Can’t we concentrate on saving lives first?

  2. #2 by Henry on June 17, 2010 - 10:57

    Hi Stu.

    That’s very near-sighted of you.

    Let me describe in depth some of the applications of the LHC.

    1 – Medical Physics. I could go on about all the background of how the positron helps in medical physics, and thanks to Paul Dirac and HEP, we’d have never discovered it. But that’s too standard. Instead lets look at the modern frontiers. Applications right NOW being developed (Actually if you go to the meeting, ask Phil Allport about this, I know he knows about it) include things such as the medical VELO – a detector used in the LHCb that has some very interesting cancer therapy treatment applications… Its a radiation tracker, which means we can see the ‘width’ of a proton beam (for example) that is used to irradiate patients, and thus help to prevent irradiation of healthy cells.

    2 – Computing. The LHC Grid is, to my knowledge, the most powerful supercomputer in the world. Because it isn’t REALLY a supercomputer. Institutes can run all sorts of jobs – not just Particle physics ones – on it, such as protein folding issues, so perhaps cures for cancer, or ‘immortality’ things, might even come from CERN. I don’t want to speculate too much on this, but it IS the worlds most powerful supercomputer that is open access to academic institutes.

    3 – Computing. The LHC requires hardware on a computing side like never seen before. It generates on the order of terabytes of data a second – dont remember the exact numbers – and the people who work on this greatly modernize computing.

    4 – Triggering efficiencies, etc. One of the problems with something like PET scans now is that you get a roughly 25% trigger purity (Things you’re looking for, in relation to what you actually accept in your trigger). The LHC has been asked by medical institutes to help improve this – I’ve seen some of the e-mails – up to perhaps 80% (speculative).

    5 – The web. We ‘invented’ the web. But that’s comparatively old news in the world of particle physics where things are discovered and invented daily.

    6 – If you look at the cost of the LHC and compare it to how much money is invested in helping people already you’ll realize its minimal. In the UK STFC (which covers a lot more than just the LHC) is something like 0.025% of the country’s GDP.

    7 – Jobs! Alot of people are employed by this, tens of thousands, and its not like the money is poured into a big black hole. It goes back to people making every day livings, who in turn help support their own communities, and pay their own taxes.

    I hope this satisfies your ‘value effectiveness’ ideas of it all.

  3. #3 by Dave on October 27, 2010 - 17:33

    Hi Stu

    I understand your point, and I think Henry has done an excellent job of putting across the opposing view.

    But I’d add that it’s not an either/or situation. The countries involved with CERN are wealthy enough to pay for the research AND address the other pressing issues you mention. If anything isn’t done to deal with AIDs etc. it’s not because the money has been diverted into CERN – it’s because politicians have decided not to and to.

    Whether people think pure research is useful or not to the average person is one matter, but I can think of an awful lot of other things western societies spend their money on that are much less worthy and ultimately less likely to lead to anything useful to humanity – just look at the shelves of cosmetics in your local supermarket. Heaven knows what fraction of wealth is spent on this but I’d bet it’s a whole lot more than all scientific research combined.

    I think there are many more targets deserving of scepticism out there!

  4. #4 by Michael on February 12, 2011 - 19:00

    CERN has moved the world into the 21st century.

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