Developments in medical applications at CERN

2 March 2015

The Ulster Museum in Belfast was the venue for a recent talk by Prof. Steve Myers, former director of accelerators and current director of medical applications at CERN.

Steve Myers

Belfast-born Myers took the audience on his personal 42-year accelerator journey through the development of cutting-edge engineering at CERN, including the serious technical accident in the Large Hadron Collider in 2008, nine days after it was switched on, to the subsequent increase in performance that led to the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012.

Prof. Myers discussed our relationship as a civilisation with particle accelerators. He noted that these sophisticated and often enormous machines provide us with insight into the dawn of the universe; however they are also in widespread use for the treatment of cancer, scientific research into the properties of materials and in security.

The man responsible for running the LHC is now driving forwards the use of accelerators in medicine, including proton beam cancer treatment. He gave a number of interesting insights into the applications of the technical expertise which CERN has, particularly in relation to the handling of big data in the medical sphere.

A key area of Myers’ work is the development of a CERN biomedical facility which will use the Low Energy Ion Ring (LEIR), suitably adapted with external funding. LEIR is the CERN facility that produces high-density ion beams for the LHC and for the Super Proton Synchotron (SPS) fixed target experiments. Since its operational schedule is not fully booked, LEIR could, in principle, be exploited even further.

Myers noted that it will increase the use of ISOLDE in developing isotopes for clinical trials, and work to develop ongoing accelerator, detector and information technologies in ways that will benefit medicine. Last but not least, it will promote networking with other laboratories engaged in the field of medical applications.

The event was part of the NI Science Festival and was organised by the Institute of Physics in Ireland.