Start main page content

Discussing particles face-to-face

- Wits University

ATLAS experiment Spokesperson commends “enthusiastic” SA physics students.

ATLAS Collaboration Spokesperson David Charlton visiting the Wits School of Physics.Of the 3 000 people working on the ATLAS experiment at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland, 1 000 are students, including postgraduates from the School of Physics at Wits.

“The students are a crucial part of the experiment,” says Professor David Charlton, Spokesperson (scientific head) of the ATLAS Collaboration at the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider.

From his engagement with physics students and academics from the School of Physics, Charlton said that most noticeable about South African students at CERN is their enthusiasm. “It is great to have young people coming through who are so enthusiastic to do the science,” he says.


His visit to Wits and its partner universities (Cape Town and Johannesburg) in the SA-CERN consortium is unique as he has only been able to visit a small fraction of the 182 institutions involved in CERN since he becoming Spokesperson for the ATLAS Collaboration in 2013. His role is to build and enhance better collaboration among the institutions, physicists, students and teams.

“Today, it is much easier for people to collaborate internationally and generally they do not work in ‘national’ teams, but with people from all over the world who share their interests. Thus, location is remarkably unimportant these days. Everything we do at CERN is video-conferenced and people join in from anywhere.”

However, meeting people face-to-face is still the best way to ensure that collaborations work well, he added.

Charlton, professor of particle physics at the University of Birmingham, was hosted at Wits by Professor Bruce Mellado, who leads the University’s involvement in the Atlas experiment at CERN.


Physicists from the Wits-ATLAS group are at the forefront of experiments on Atlas at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The group was also part of the historic observation three years ago of the Higgs boson, a puzzle piece in the Standard Model of Particle Physics, that opened up possibilities to discover more exotic particles.

Read more about Wits’ various activities and involvement at CERN.