Head Hadron Collider physicist explains his life's work


Dr Lyn Evans, head of the CERN Hadron Collider project, has received an honorary degree from the University of Wales. BBC Wales' Noel Titheradge spoke to him to discuss his lifetime fascination with science.

Image caption,
Dr Lyn Evans began working at CERN as a research fellow 41 years ago

"This is a march forward in our understanding."

For Dr Lyn Evans, leader of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Switzerland, the stakes of the project's success could not be higher.

"During my life I've seen some fantastic discoveries," he said. "The LHC is designed to take us a big step forward.

"Now let's see if it lives up to our expectations."

The Large Hadron Collider smashes together protons to simulate the conditions immediately after the Big Bang.

It is hoped the project will help reveal the secrets of the building blocks of life.

It took 10,000 scientists a total of 14 years to assemble the ring-shaped tunnel below the Swiss and French border.

At 100m underground and with a circumference of 27km, the tunnel would be an unusual working envionment for many but not for a man from the south Wales valleys.

"I'm from Aberdare, we've got a lot of pits there", he said.

"I didn't actually work underground eight hours a day installing the machine, I was responsible for the scientific side.

"Now the machine is finished you hardly go in there at all, you just operate it."

The Large Hadron Collider project has gained a lot of attention, partly because of the implications of its potential discoveries but also for the setbacks it has suffered.

The machine only recently restarted after being out of action for 14 months following an accident in September 2008.

Dr Evans recognises that there are many misconceptions about the project.

"There's nothing magic about physics. It's pure logic and a lot of hard work," he said.

"Physics is a difficult subject to really bring over to the general public."

Dr Evans studied physics at what was then the University of Wales, Swansea, completing a PhD in 1970, and was fascinated by science from an early age.

"I always used to play with chemistry sets when I was younger," he said.

"I was always interested in science but I do believe that big flagship projects are essential if you want to capture the imagination of young people.

Image caption,
Dr Lyn Evans has led the project for the last 15 years, managing a team of 2,500 scientists

"In my day it was Sputnik - science was raging at that time. I hope that the LHC will turn a few young minds on to science."

Dr Evans is concerned at the decreasing popularity of physics amongst university-goers.

"We know that our society needs more scientists - not necessarily for research but to feed industry," he said.

"We are losing young people and let's hope we can turn that around, especially in Wales."

Dr Evans is a strong supporter of Wales' scientific heritage and believes supporting education is vital in sustaining that success.

He said: "One thing that we absolutely need is really good teachers that are going to inspire young people about a difficult subject.

"Wales has got a long scientific tradition. It has always punched above its weight in producing scientists and that is a product of the fantastic education system that we had in Wales.

"There have been many, many Welsh scientists, I'm only one in a chain.

"I'm sure there'll be many after me doing great things."

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