In what can be described as a historic moment for Malta’s scientific sector, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi will today sign a memorandum of understanding with CERN that will start off a long-term participation project for Maltese engineers and scientists in research and innovation projects.
The Prime Minister left yesterday, accompanied by government officials and University of Malta representatives, to sign the memorandum of understanding and initiate a series of discussions about further collaboration.
CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (also known as the European Organisation for Nuclear Research), is situated on the Franco-Swiss border just outside Geneva and funded by 20 European member states with a budget of e600 million per year. It researches non-military peaceful fundamental science with the aim of bringing together the same countries that fought each other in World War II.
Technically, Maltese scientists are not allowed to work and conduct research at CERN because Malta is not a CERN member state. However, thanks to the results of a Ph.D. thesis brought about through a temporary collaboration between CERN and the Department of Micro-
electronics (then in the Faculty of Engineering and now in the Faculty of ICT) at the University of Malta, Nicholas Sammut is working as a research engineer involved in one of the world’s biggest, and most expensive, projects ever done.
Worldwide specialists are building the largest and most powerful scientific instrument ever constructed by mankind – a particle accelerator known as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The LHC is 27 km long and is 100m underground, carrying a price tag of around e6 billion.
Dr Sammut is in charge of the implementation and optimisation of the feed forward control system of the LHC. He got access to a cryogenic infrastructure of e25 million which he needed to successfully complete his research project. In addition to this, he also coordinated a team of engineers and technicians to build and characterise an electronic instrument that measures dynamic properties of LHC superconducting magnets. At the time of completion, this instrument was the fastest and most precise of its kind in the world.
The project, which started in 1984, will be switched on in May and its cutting edge technology may have profound implications in physics, engineering, computing and medicine ranging from the infinitely small (nanotechnology) to the infinitely large (cosmology).