Connor at the cutting edge

CRAIGAVON school children got a sample of the cutting edge of science - inspired by a library book.

Dr Conor Henderson was guest of honour at Lismore Comprehensive’s prize night.

He works as a research fellow at CERN - the world’s largest particle physics laboratory in Switzerland, where his everyday life is filled with studies of massive collisions on the smallest of scales.

The international research facility made the headlines last year when it turned on its Large Hadron Collider.

The multi-billion pound project fires particles around a large 27km underground ring and then crashes them together to study the results.

When the experiment was ‘turned on’ last September a small glitch caused the whole project to be delayed.

The organisation and its experiment also gained world-wide notoriety in the bestselling Dan Brown novel and film, Angels and Demons.

“It’s not all that glamorous,” said former Lismore pupil Conor.

“But it is exciting stuff, I work with scientists from across the world many of them Nobel Prize winners.

“It's inspiring to work alongside real pioneers of science - and for them to know my name.

“The work we do is right on the cutting edge - often it doesn’t work as we saw last year when the collider was switched on for the first time.

“But the work is invaluable and it is funded by governments around the world - so it can’t be licensed and sold at massive profits.

“The primary work will unlock so much understanding of the world and many other influential innovations have come about almost by chance.

“The internet was invented at CERN, all because the scientists wanted an easier way to communicate to each other across the world.

“The hyper text transfer protocol (HTTP) is how we have the world wide web.”

Conor is working on developing a proposal which will help narrow the breadth of research.

“When the particles collide it’s like two buses crashing, but with different material produced because of the collision,” he said.

“From there we will have a huge amount of data to study, but hopefully my research will allow us to concentrate on the vital elements.”

At the age of 32 Conor has already an illustrious career behind him.

He was former head boy at Lismore before going on to study physics at Queen’s.

Conor was the inaugural winner of the John Geddes prize for the best QUB physics undergraduate research project and was president of the Queen’s Physics Society

He was awarded the JFK Memorial Fund Scholarship which allowed him to study a PhD at MIT - an American university noted for both its academic and Hollywood credentials.

Senator Ted Kennedy was a big supporter of the scholarship and Conor visited the late statesman at his senate office and home in Cape Cod.

After completing his study Conor was invited to continue his research with the university in a paid capacity.

“I’ve always had an interest in science from a young age,” said Conor.

“I read a book in the school’s library explaining Einstein’s famous theory of relativity and from there my interest grew and I realised the work of a scientist and how valuable it could be.

“Lismore was very supportive especially my science teachers Frank Curran and Thomas Stevenson.

“The two of them were great characters.”

Conor’s father, Joe is vice principal at Lismore, he said: “The school is delighted Conor has done so well.”

“And I and my wife Nuala are particularly proud of our son.”