Page 129 - UCT Research Report 2011

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of matter; and in a practical sense the particle detector
software has a multitude of commercial purposes. For
example, one company intended to use software coming
out of CERN’s third major experiment: A Large Ion Collider
Experiment (ALICE) programme, to detect smuggled
diamonds in the human body, but ended up using it in a
low-dose full-body scanner instead.
“Other spin-offs from the LHC and related technologies
are improved superconducting magnets (that lead to
better medical imaging devices such as MRIs) and
the Internet as we know it,” says UCT physics lecturer
Dr Will Horowitz. (It was at CERN that physicists
invented the World Wide Web.) But, it will probably be
years and decades before we realise the full potential
of this find.
UCT’s pioneering physicists
The particle discovery was a global effort and a global
victory. The ATLAS Experiment alone includes over 3 000
collaborators from 38 countries, including South Africa.
UCT physicists also participate in the experiments of
the ALICE programme, which uses heavy ion collisions
to search for a new state of matter, known as the quark-
Dr Hamilton has worked directly on the Higgs search as a
member of the ATLAS collaboration: “I built part of the trigger
system, which is the part of the experiment that chooses
which proton collisions will be saved for analysis and which
will the thrown away. In ATLAS, we have approximately 40
million events per second, if we were to record every one,
we would need to write about three petabytes of data per
second (a petabyte is one million gigabytes). This is clearly
not possible, so the trigger system selects about 500 events
per second that are interesting for analysis.”
“This is one more example of UCT’s participation in
world-leading research. We are actively and meaningfully
“Physics has no local geographical
niche to appeal to, such as the
southern sky. Physics is truly universal,
and to be recognised as excellent,
we need to play on the international
stage. Being in on big science is
good for many reasons. Not least of
all attracting excellent students.”
Dr Andrew Hamilton, of the UCT Department of Physics, inside the ATLAS detector at CERN in Geneva.