UCC president, Patrick O’Shea, and world-renowned UCD particle physicist Ronan McNulty are among leading academics who support joining CERN, Cork senator Colm Burke said. Mr Burke has raised the issue with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in recent weeks, saying: “Irish companies are currently not able to compete for contracts from Cern which are valued at over €300m per annum.”
Founded in 1954, the CERN laboratory near Geneva was one of Europe’s first joint ventures and now has 22 member states. There are 21 European countries, as well as Israel, in CERN, whose main area of research is particle physics — the study of the fundamental constituents of matter and the forces acting between them.
CERN is also home to one of the world’s most impressive feats of engineering, the Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator with a 27km ring of superconducting magnets. CERN has thousands of staff laboratories and has hosted tens of thousands of fellows from the scientific and engineering fields. It is also involved in advanced cancer therapy, IT, biomedical, and other research. The World Wide Web began as a CERN project in 1989.
Membership can cost up to €10m annually, which is thought to be the overriding reason why Ireland has not become a member. CERN director general Fabiola Gianotti has said that the organisation wants Ireland as a member.
ISTA national chairman Seán Fogarty said it was “high time” Ireland joined. “The fact that the mainly European members of Cern have managed over the years to produce so many different experiments and discoveries is in itself amazing and it is high time that Ireland was part of it,” he said. Mr Fogarty said ISTA supported “the many arguments, such as economic spin off, job opportunities, etc” but that the impact on students to encourage them into STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) would be invaluable.
“The key area for us is how Ireland’s membership will impact on our students. With a new policy document on STEM education in Ireland about to be released by the Department of Education, it is more imperative than ever that our students see Ireland at the heart of scientific discovery and endeavours,” he said.
“If they do not see Ireland being involved in the like of Cern, then they can be forgiven for thinking that big science is something that happens elsewhere and that there is little point in them taking a STEM related subject. “There are many aspects to the uptake of STEM subjects but the interest that is generated by something like our involvement in Cern would be an area that could, with the right promotion behind it in schools, act another strand to the promotion of STEM.” Mr Fogarty said it was important to Ireland’s economic development that “we have the skills in our population to avail of the opportunities presented and to cope with the challenges of the future”.