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December 2, 2015

Meet the Adelaide brain who helped build the Hadron Collider

His name is Paul Jackson and he's going to tell you all about creating black holes, finding the God Particle and what's next for modern technology.

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  • Words: Johnny von Einem
  • Pictures: Julian Cebo

Depending on who you listen to, it’s either the largest and most interesting experiment currently being undertaken in particle physics, or it’s the most dangerous contraption humans have ever created. Whatever your opinion, the Large Hadron Collider is changing how we understand our world, and the University of Adelaide’s Dr Paul Jackson wants to tell you about it.


Research Tuesdays is a free public lecture series designed to share how University of Adelaide research is transforming the world we live in.

When the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva was introduced to the public it was portrayed in the media as one part scientific frontier and one part potential doomsday device.

The excitement among the scientific community about the 27-kilometre-long particle collider centred on the ability to study and hopefully prove the existence of the hypothesised Higgs boson, or God Particle.

The unease among the public came from the news the machine could potentially be used to create black holes.

Dr Paul Jackson is a particle physicist and Australian Research Council Future Fellow who helped build the LHC, and who’s currently part of the collider’s ATLAS experiment.

Although it’s great for the general public’s imagination to be engaged with the project, Paul says, there are perhaps less fatalistic ways of doing it.

“Us physicists, we’re excited in the sense that making a black hole would be cool, but people take that from what they understand a black hole to mean, [which is] destruction,” Paul explains.

“I think CERN (European Organisation for Nuclear Research) have really got their teeth into the propaganda somehow and actually said ‘ok we need to not say these things that are unsettling to people and maybe explain in a bit more detail’.

“I don’t know if that fear has necessarily subsided for every person who wants to believe that when we say there might be a portal to an extra dimension they think of their favourite sci-fi movie and they think there’s little demons coming out in this experiment, but I think it’s subsided from where it was maybe a few years ago when people were putting up lawsuits and things like this.”

Speaking at the Braggs lecture theatre as part of the University of Adelaide’s Research Tuesdays lecture series, Paul will be discussing how the LHC works and what it’s being used for now that the Higgs boson’s existence has been confirmed.

This year, the discovery of a pentaquark (Google at will) was cause for excitement, and Paul is also part of a project looking into how dark matter works and seeing if they can produce it at the LHC.

These results are mostly intellectual advancements, but history has shown that it’s the spinoff technologies created from these experiments that usually have the most impact on people’s lives.

One such technology we have to thank particle physicists for, according to Paul, is cloud computing.


Alas – the FREE Collider Scope presentation at the Braggs Lecture Theatre, North Terrace Campus, University of Adelaide on Tuesday 8th December is FULLY BOOKED. But you can sign up and get advanced warning on such brilliant presentations here.

“We have cloud computing that allows us to access the data all across the world. This computing is done in a grid system so we have access to data centres in all of the countries that are involved in the ATLAS experiment, which is 38 and about 180 institutions,” Paul says.

“All of that original work was done by high-energy physicists to be able to share their data around so that everyone could do this work, and now that kind of activity is a lot more commonplace for people sharing things.”

Whether it’s striving for a greater understanding of the make up of the universe, portals to extra dimensions, or just a more convenient way to store the million-or-so photos of your favourite furry family member, Paul Jackson and the ATLAS team are on the case.

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