Lyndon R. Evans in town to deliver the JC Bose Memorial Lecture. (Sanat Kr Sinha)
Robert Langdon would have been lost without Lyndon R. Evans.
The 64-year-old physicist in town on Friday to deliver the JC Bose Memorial Lecture is the project leader and chief architect of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in the European Organisation for Nuclear Research or CERN in Switzerland. CERN’s antimatter research had powered Dan Brown’s best-selling novel Angels and Demons, the prequel to The Da Vinci Code.
“Ever since the movie (with Tom Hanks as Langdon on the trail of a secret society that is armed with the deadly power of antimatter) was released, we were deluged by emails enquiring whether we’ve been storing huge caches of ‘explosive’ antimatter. It was tough combating the pseudo-science,” said Evans.
If the Welsh engineer behind “the biggest machine ever built” that hopes to solve “some fundamental mysteries about how the universe was put together” is fed up with the fictional Harvard symbologist, he is all praise for scientists from India, including Calcutta, who have played an important role in mission LHC.
“We had shut down the machine after it developed a technical glitch last year, but now we are ready to start the machine again in two weeks’ time,” Evans told Metro. “Many Indians have worked hard in the repair of the malfunctioning connection between the magnets that led to the mess. Accelerator pioneers from this city also lent their expertise in building LHC’s crucial detector ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment).”
At the lecture, organised by the Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre, the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics and the National Institute of Technology, Durgapur, the man dubbed “Evans the Atom” by British tabloids, added: “You Calcuttans got your first particle accelerator decades before the LHC came into being.”
Evans was referring to VECC, the country’s first cyclotron of its kind, which dates back to June 1977, whereas the LHC began to be built in 1994.
The antimatter man has been instrumental in designing and building the 27km long machine for 14 years, now running a lab with 3,000 scientists and overseeing coordination across the world.
“It’s been a huge challenge because when we started we didn’t even have a prototype of the machine,” he said, adding that mission LHC had brought together “tens of thousands” of the world’s finest minds. “You’ll find Indians and Pakistanis working peacefully in my team. Science is a great leveller.”
Bikash Sinha, the former director of VECC, said while introducing Evans to the audience, “For him, the tougher task was to convince policy makers and politicians to cough up the colossal funds ($10 billion).”
Agreed Evans: “They’d often ask about the practical benefits of the project. We’d explain to them how our research on antimatter (an alter ego of matter; a particle and its antimatter particle annihilate when they meet, releasing huge energy) eventually paved the way for PET scan machines used to diagnose cancer. We had to drive home the message that the machine’s been built for a bigger purpose. For reproducing the energies that existed a fraction of a second after the big bang.”
But is the LHC going to find Higgs boson, the elusive “god particle” that theory suggests gives matter its mass? “I’m sure it will find the Higgs boson, but it will take at least four years to do so.”
In that case, Evans won’t be there to witness the arrival of Higgs boson; he will retire next January. “I plan to play some golf and join a lab in the UK where I can analyse the results from LHC.”
You can take Evans out of CERN but you can’t take LHC out of Evans.