Accelerator physics and the case for curiosity-driven research - Suzie Sheehy at Second Collisions

Suzie Sheehy

Suzie Sheehy, our next noteworthy speaker during the CERN Alumni Second Collisions, spoke to us recently about keeping in touch with CERN even after leaving the laboratory and moving to Australia and she shared a sneak-peek of her new book, “The Matter of Everything”, which is due out in 2022. She also included a special invitation for all CERN Alumni to join the event on the 1 – 3 October.

Suzie recalls her first experience at CERN and what motivated her to pursue further PhD studies.
“I was a summer student at CERN in 2004, working on a monitoring system for the heaters of the cooling system – yes really – of the ATLAS inner detector. CERN really opened my eyes to embarking on a career in physics on the global stage. It was in equal parts overwhelming, humbling and awe-inspiring.
While I was at CERN I made friends with students from Oxford who encouraged me to think about doing a PhD in the UK (I’m a dual citizen Australia/UK). Their support and the subsequent enthusiasm of Oxford Physics admissions (in particular Prof. Todd Huffman), got me to take the chance of applying and the rest – I guess – is history.

We also talked about how her career has been shaped after her studies, where her next steps took her and about her continuous collaboration with CERN.
I have recently established an accelerator physics research group and accelerator lab at Melbourne University, where I am Senior Lecturer. We collaborate with CERN and will soon install an X-band accelerator test system “X-BOX” on loan to us from CERN and the CLIC collaboration. Today I am working from my home in Oxford, having just returned from Melbourne, Australia and at the moment I still spend half my time in Oxford, where I am seeing through a research programme in high intensity hadron accelerators as a Royal Society University Research Fellow, my experiment here is located at the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory: I’m excited to get back in the lab now COVID restrictions allow it!”

Positive impact on society – that’s the essential topic of the Second Collisions event and as we discovered, Suzie’s work and research is closely tied to future medical applications and she is also strongly involved in science communication, with her next book coming out in early 2022.
I take a values-led approach to my work as much as possible. While I believe that curiosity driven research is valuable in its own right (see my TED talk!) the truth is that research in physics has had – and continues to have – phenomenal impact in the real world.
First, my research: while my area of specialism is beam dynamics of accelerators, much of my research has current or future applications in medicine, including hadron therapy and radiotherapy.
For example I am part of the STELLA collaboration (Smart Technologies to Extend Lives with Linear Accelerators) which aims to improve access to radiotherapy in low and middle-income countries by studying and improving accelerator (linac) technologies, imaging and automation.
Finally, I am also a science communicator, so I have spent much of my career learning how to engage with non-scientists to explain the motivation, knowledge and impact of research. Through this I learned that most people have no idea how we actually do experiments to understand particle physics, and most people are also not aware of how the pursuit of knowledge in physics has created either directly or indirectly large swathes of our modern technology, from the web to MRI scanners. This is the story I tell in my forthcoming book.

CERN Alumni Second Collisions aims to bring together inspiring speakers, interactive features, games, virtual visits, networking but most importantly people, who make CERN the place it is today. Suzie jumped at the opportunity to participate in this event and explains why she thinks you should too!
One of the things I note in my book is that one of the biggest impacts that a place like CERN has is through training highly-skilled and super smart people. Most of us will not stay at CERN or even in physics, but at some point in our lives we were all awe-struck and inspired by the quest to understand matter and forces and the Universe we live in: that’s what brought us to CERN. CERN Alumni should attend Collisions to re-connect with that spark in themselves and to reflect on what we fallible, frail humans can achieve by working together. It’s never seemed more important for us to reflect on this.

Registration for the CERN Alumni Second Collisions event is now open, so join Suzie and our other outstanding speakers, reconnect with your ex-colleagues, relive the nostalgia by revisiting iconic CERN  buildings and participate in diverse activities we have prepared for you!

Register here and find out more about the event here.




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