I thank the committee for the opportunity to present the case for the opportunity to present the case for Irish membership of CERN, the European centre for particle physics. CERN was established in 1954 in a Europe fragmented by the Second World War. Its objective was "science for peace", a beacon of hope and collaboration for Europe. CERN’s mission is to push back the frontiers of knowledge, develop new technologies, train the next generation and unite people from different cultures. All research is open and given freely for the betterment of humankind. Its success is manifest, allowing it become the premier scientific laboratory in the world. Its work produced Nobel prizes in 1984, 1992 and 2013, and its benefits to humanity include positron emission tomography, PET, scanners in hospitals, hadron therapy for cancer treatment, touchscreens and the worldwide web. Simply to be part of this European project is reason enough to join CERN but within this big picture several pragmatic and tangible benefits would accrue to Ireland. I will list some of these and further details can be found in a booklet prepared in 2014 by the Institute of Physics in Ireland and circulated to the committee. It is also available online.
The first benefit is education and training. The mode age of CERN users is 27 and that simple fact tells us that the centre is a training academy for the scientists and engineers of the future. In addition to accommodating thousands of students doing masters and PhDs, the centre has many formal training schemes, including apprenticeships; training partnerships with universities, technical training experience, a graduate engineering training scheme and internships for computer scientists and engineers. For undergraduates, it runs a CERN summer student programme, which by special provision has been attended by a few Irish students such as Dr. Aoibhinn Ní Shuilleabháin, science presenter on radio and television and a former Rose of Tralee, who is now a mathematics professor at UCD. For teachers, CERN has a high school physics teacher programme and runs dedicated workshops for teachers in conjunction with departments of education in member state countries.
The second benefit is inspiration and outreach. CERN inspires students and the public. A survey of UK undergraduates indicates 95% had been inspired by particle physics. In the UK, almost half the population followed the Higgs discovery on TV or radio. In Ireland, the switching on of the Large Hadron Collider was widely covered by all news media. During the Higgs boson announcement, I reported live on RTÉ’s "Morning Ireland" directly from CERN. I would also like to mention an inspiring story of student achievement. On 22 July 2010, the first glimpse of the Z boson at a Large Hadron Collider experiment by Irish PhD. student James Keaveney was front-page news in The Irish Times. Two different exhibitions from CERN have come to Ireland, visiting Galway in 2012 and being made possible by funding from Boston Scientific, and visiting Dublin in 2013. Every year, we run particle physics masterclasses at Irish universities, where secondary school children are particle physicists for the day, analysing Large Hadron Collider data and discussing their results by video-conference with their school peers in other countries.
The third benefit is knowledge transfer. Working at the frontier of what is known and is technologically possible inevitably leads to breakthroughs. Being part of that leads to opportunities, patents and competitive advantages. Let us consider Trinity College Dublin student, James Casey, who in 1994, courtesy of his UK passport, was a summer student at CERN working on web technology, two doors down from Tim Berners-Lee. Today he works on cloud computing and is vice president of partner integration with Seattle-based start-up CHEF. Another example is given by the companies that worked with CERN to make the most powerful magnets in the world for the Large Hadron Collider. This has enabled them today to become market leaders in making magnets for magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, machines in hospitals. A further case study is provided by vacuum engineers at CERN who spun off the technology and set up a company to make much more efficient solar panels. The science at CERN is powering the future with ideas but such innovation does not spontaneously happen. It is a result of knowledge gained and "if you are not in, you cannot win".
The fourth benefit relates to micro-electronics and sensors. This is an important element of our economy and one very well matched to CERN. The Tyndall Institute in Cork makes radiation sensors that are used in the Large Hadron Collider tunnel. SensL in Cork, now ON semiconductors, makes silicon photomultipliers and has supplied CERN. Both producing and exploiting detectors used at the Large Hadron Collider is an opportunity for Irish industry. Professor Val O’Shea is an expert in that area and one of the founders of the Medipix project that uses Large Hadron Collider detectors for medical imaging.
The fifth benefit relates to medical devices and public health. It surprises some people that Ireland has approximately 30 particle accelerators. They are all in hospitals and are used for treating cancer or producing radioactive isotopes. Professor Brendan McClean from St. Luke’s Hospital can explain the close links between particle physics and health. Last year, in collaboration with the University of Kansas, we placed some of the Large Hadron Collider detectors in a medical linear accelerator beam at St.Luke’s Hospital. There is also an important emergent technology called hadron therapy for treating cancer, which is being developed at CERN and is essentially a small version of the Large Hadron Collider. New forms of cancer diagnosis and treatment are vital as there is a one in three chance of developing cancer at some point in our lives. Consequently, it is a major area for policy and investment in both Ireland and Europe, including Horizon 2020 funding.
The sixth benefit relates to big data. A report commissioned by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation in 2015 states "The lack of big data skills could be the single most important barrier preventing Ireland to achieve its goal of leadership in this market". CERN has one of the largest data stores on the planet. The Large Hadron Collider produces approximately 1 petabyte of data every second, a rate 1,000 times greater than global mobile phone data traffic. Access to this data, development of machine learning and data mining tools, and the operation of what is literally a global computer is available to members of CERN experiments. This potential has been seized by companies such as Yandex, the "Russian Google", and the Yandex School of Data Analysis is a member of one of the Large Hadron Collider experiments.
The next benefit relates to contracts for Irish companies. The total value of CERN contracts is approximately €400 million per year. CERN gives contracts preferentially to member state companies and by not being a member of CERN, companies, including multinationals, making products in Ireland are at a competitive disadvantage compared with their competitors or their own subsidiaries in other countries. Irish companies with unique products have won CERN contracts in the past, including micro-electronic companies like SensL, Tyndall and Maxim Integrated; software companies like Microsoft, Symantec and Synopsis; and small and medium enterprises like Social Talent, Agtel and Sonru, whose founder and chief executive officer, Mr. Ed Hendrick, is present and can tell the committee about his experience of developing an innovative product and working with CERN. It is worth pointing out that CERN contracts do not only relate to science; companies can bid for accountancy services, translation, such as provided to CERN by Nations Language Training in Cork, and even beef and dairy for the restaurants.
The next benefit relates to internationalism. Today, both science and the economy are global. As is becoming increasingly apparent, isolationism is regressive and has negative economic impacts. Making connections and working together is vital for success. Furthermore, with Brexit looming, closer ties to continental Europe are essential. CERN stands for collaboration and is a channel to foreign markets. A 2014 OECD study on the impact of large research infrastructure identifies several unique features of collaboration at CERN, including the "richness and productivity of the network ... due to the open nature of the working environment of CERN" and socio-economic results such as "the revitalisation of Central Europe following the end of the Cold War and ... the development of an advanced, extremely sophisticated form of cancer therapy". Moreover, CERN is associated with more than €350 million in Horizon 2020 funding, with a success rate of 35%, well in excess of the average of 12%. By not being members of CERN, we make it difficult for Ireland to access this additional funding stream.
The next benefit is reputation. Only a few sizeable European states are neither members nor associate members of CERN. Earlier this year, Lithuania became an associate member. The map in the submission available to the committee demonstrates relationships between CERN and European counties. Within Europe, only Ireland, Moldova and Bosnia have no formal agreement at all. India and Pakistan are associate members and non-European countries like Australia, China, the United States, Russia, Iran, Canada, Argentina, South Korea, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and South Africa, to name but a few, all have collaboration agreements. It is also notable that during the financial crisis, Greece remained in CERN because it saw membership as a means to recovery, citing "the spillover effects of technologies" and valuing "the human network". Our non-membership seems at variance to promoting a knowledge economy in Ireland and, apart from the issue of contracts, it may affect our reputation as a destination of choice for high-tech companies.
I have presented nine strands where joining CERN could lead to significant benefits for Ireland. The bottom line, as ever, is how much this costs. The price tag is from €1.3 million per year, and this can be increased or stopped without penalty, giving great flexibility for policymakers. This is at the lower end of a typical Science Foundation Ireland, SFI, research centre grant or, equivalently, a single cup of coffee for all higher rate taxpayers.
Most important though, this is not money that is given away. Rather, it is committed to Irish nationals, Irish science and Irish companies. Roughly speaking, one third of the money is spent on university students, teachers, scientists, engineers and computer scientists from Ireland, who receive training or placements at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, CERN; one third is spent on fellowships and staff positions for Irish nationals to work at CERN and transfer that knowledge home; and one third is spent on Irish products through contracts. Thus in a very real sense, this money is spent on Ireland and is invested in the country and in its future.
The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation's Innovation 2020 strategy, published in 2015, sought to bring Ireland’s research and development intensity to 2.5% of gross national product, GNP, by 2020, with increased investment in "Expanding Ireland’s participation in International Research Organisations, including CERN”. With gross expenditure on research and development currently running at 1.2% of gross domestic product, GDP, we have more to do to increase our impact. Investing in science is an important part of growing the economy and of building resilience to future shocks. Joining CERN, with its high-tech opportunities and global connectedness, is an attractive and cost-effective investment for Ireland. The impact of CERN membership extends from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation to the Departments of Education and Skills, Health, Finance and Foreign Affairs and Trade. In short, membership of CERN will benefit the entire country.