Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 16 October 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation
Irish Membership of CERN: Discussion
I welcome Professor Ronan McNulty from UCD; Dr. Sheila Gilheany, policy officer, Institute of Physics in Ireland; Mr. Ed Hendrick, CEO, Sonru; Professor Brendan McClean, St. Luke's Radiation Oncology Network, Rathgar; Professor Val O'Shea, Physics Department, University of Glasgow; and Professor Sinead Ryan, School of Mathematics, Trinity College Dublin to discuss possible opportunities for scientific and economic advantage to Ireland by joining CERN.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the joint committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I remind our guests that the presentation, a copy of which has been circulated to members, should be no more than ten minutes and the presentation. I call Professor McNulty.
Professor Ronan McNulty:
I thank the committee for the opportunity to present the case for the opportunity to present the case for Irish membership of CERN, the European centre for particle physics. CERN was established in 1954 in a Europe fragmented by the Second World War. Its objective was "science for peace", a beacon of hope and collaboration for Europe. CERN’s mission is to push back the frontiers of knowledge, develop new technologies, train the next generation and unite people from different cultures. All research is open and given freely for the betterment of humankind. Its success is manifest, allowing it become the premier scientific laboratory in the world. Its work produced Nobel prizes in 1984, 1992 and 2013, and its benefits to humanity include positron emission tomography, PET, scanners in hospitals, hadron therapy for cancer treatment, touchscreens and the worldwide web. Simply to be part of this European project is reason enough to join CERN but within this big picture several pragmatic and tangible benefits would accrue to Ireland. I will list some of these and further details can be found in a booklet prepared in 2014 by the Institute of Physics in Ireland and circulated to the committee. It is also available online.
The first benefit is education and training. The mode age of CERN users is 27 and that simple fact tells us that the centre is a training academy for the scientists and engineers of the future. In addition to accommodating thousands of students doing masters and PhDs, the centre has many formal training schemes, including apprenticeships; training partnerships with universities, technical training experience, a graduate engineering training scheme and internships for computer scientists and engineers. For undergraduates, it runs a CERN summer student programme, which by special provision has been attended by a few Irish students such as Dr. Aoibhinn Ní Shuilleabháin, science presenter on radio and television and a former Rose of Tralee, who is now a mathematics professor at UCD. For teachers, CERN has a high school physics teacher programme and runs dedicated workshops for teachers in conjunction with departments of education in member state countries.
The second benefit is inspiration and outreach. CERN inspires students and the public. A survey of UK undergraduates indicates 95% had been inspired by particle physics. In the UK, almost half the population followed the Higgs discovery on TV or radio. In Ireland, the switching on of the Large Hadron Collider was widely covered by all news media. During the Higgs boson announcement, I reported live on RTÉ’s "Morning Ireland" directly from CERN. I would also like to mention an inspiring story of student achievement. On 22 July 2010, the first glimpse of the Z boson at a Large Hadron Collider experiment by Irish PhD. student James Keaveney was front-page news in The Irish Times. Two different exhibitions from CERN have come to Ireland, visiting Galway in 2012 and being made possible by funding from Boston Scientific, and visiting Dublin in 2013. Every year, we run particle physics masterclasses at Irish universities, where secondary school children are particle physicists for the day, analysing Large Hadron Collider data and discussing their results by video-conference with their school peers in other countries.
The third benefit is knowledge transfer. Working at the frontier of what is known and is technologically possible inevitably leads to breakthroughs. Being part of that leads to opportunities, patents and competitive advantages. Let us consider Trinity College Dublin student, James Casey, who in 1994, courtesy of his UK passport, was a summer student at CERN working on web technology, two doors down from Tim Berners-Lee. Today he works on cloud computing and is vice president of partner integration with Seattle-based start-up CHEF. Another example is given by the companies that worked with CERN to make the most powerful magnets in the world for the Large Hadron Collider. This has enabled them today to become market leaders in making magnets for magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, machines in hospitals. A further case study is provided by vacuum engineers at CERN who spun off the technology and set up a company to make much more efficient solar panels. The science at CERN is powering the future with ideas but such innovation does not spontaneously happen. It is a result of knowledge gained and "if you are not in, you cannot win".
The fourth benefit relates to micro-electronics and sensors. This is an important element of our economy and one very well matched to CERN. The Tyndall Institute in Cork makes radiation sensors that are used in the Large Hadron Collider tunnel. SensL in Cork, now ON semiconductors, makes silicon photomultipliers and has supplied CERN. Both producing and exploiting detectors used at the Large Hadron Collider is an opportunity for Irish industry. Professor Val O’Shea is an expert in that area and one of the founders of the Medipix project that uses Large Hadron Collider detectors for medical imaging.
The fifth benefit relates to medical devices and public health. It surprises some people that Ireland has approximately 30 particle accelerators. They are all in hospitals and are used for treating cancer or producing radioactive isotopes. Professor Brendan McClean from St. Luke’s Hospital can explain the close links between particle physics and health. Last year, in collaboration with the University of Kansas, we placed some of the Large Hadron Collider detectors in a medical linear accelerator beam at St.Luke’s Hospital. There is also an important emergent technology called hadron therapy for treating cancer, which is being developed at CERN and is essentially a small version of the Large Hadron Collider. New forms of cancer diagnosis and treatment are vital as there is a one in three chance of developing cancer at some point in our lives. Consequently, it is a major area for policy and investment in both Ireland and Europe, including Horizon 2020 funding.
The sixth benefit relates to big data. A report commissioned by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation in 2015 states "The lack of big data skills could be the single most important barrier preventing Ireland to achieve its goal of leadership in this market". CERN has one of the largest data stores on the planet. The Large Hadron Collider produces approximately 1 petabyte of data every second, a rate 1,000 times greater than global mobile phone data traffic. Access to this data, development of machine learning and data mining tools, and the operation of what is literally a global computer is available to members of CERN experiments. This potential has been seized by companies such as Yandex, the "Russian Google", and the Yandex School of Data Analysis is a member of one of the Large Hadron Collider experiments.
The next benefit relates to contracts for Irish companies. The total value of CERN contracts is approximately €400 million per year. CERN gives contracts preferentially to member state companies and by not being a member of CERN, companies, including multinationals, making products in Ireland are at a competitive disadvantage compared with their competitors or their own subsidiaries in other countries. Irish companies with unique products have won CERN contracts in the past, including micro-electronic companies like SensL, Tyndall and Maxim Integrated; software companies like Microsoft, Symantec and Synopsis; and small and medium enterprises like Social Talent, Agtel and Sonru, whose founder and chief executive officer, Mr. Ed Hendrick, is present and can tell the committee about his experience of developing an innovative product and working with CERN. It is worth pointing out that CERN contracts do not only relate to science; companies can bid for accountancy services, translation, such as provided to CERN by Nations Language Training in Cork, and even beef and dairy for the restaurants.
The next benefit relates to internationalism. Today, both science and the economy are global. As is becoming increasingly apparent, isolationism is regressive and has negative economic impacts. Making connections and working together is vital for success. Furthermore, with Brexit looming, closer ties to continental Europe are essential. CERN stands for collaboration and is a channel to foreign markets. A 2014 OECD study on the impact of large research infrastructure identifies several unique features of collaboration at CERN, including the "richness and productivity of the network ... due to the open nature of the working environment of CERN" and socio-economic results such as "the revitalisation of Central Europe following the end of the Cold War and ... the development of an advanced, extremely sophisticated form of cancer therapy". Moreover, CERN is associated with more than €350 million in Horizon 2020 funding, with a success rate of 35%, well in excess of the average of 12%. By not being members of CERN, we make it difficult for Ireland to access this additional funding stream.
The next benefit is reputation. Only a few sizeable European states are neither members nor associate members of CERN. Earlier this year, Lithuania became an associate member. The map in the submission available to the committee demonstrates relationships between CERN and European counties. Within Europe, only Ireland, Moldova and Bosnia have no formal agreement at all. India and Pakistan are associate members and non-European countries like Australia, China, the United States, Russia, Iran, Canada, Argentina, South Korea, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and South Africa, to name but a few, all have collaboration agreements. It is also notable that during the financial crisis, Greece remained in CERN because it saw membership as a means to recovery, citing "the spillover effects of technologies" and valuing "the human network". Our non-membership seems at variance to promoting a knowledge economy in Ireland and, apart from the issue of contracts, it may affect our reputation as a destination of choice for high-tech companies.
I have presented nine strands where joining CERN could lead to significant benefits for Ireland. The bottom line, as ever, is how much this costs. The price tag is from €1.3 million per year, and this can be increased or stopped without penalty, giving great flexibility for policymakers. This is at the lower end of a typical Science Foundation Ireland, SFI, research centre grant or, equivalently, a single cup of coffee for all higher rate taxpayers.
Most important though, this is not money that is given away. Rather, it is committed to Irish nationals, Irish science and Irish companies. Roughly speaking, one third of the money is spent on university students, teachers, scientists, engineers and computer scientists from Ireland, who receive training or placements at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, CERN; one third is spent on fellowships and staff positions for Irish nationals to work at CERN and transfer that knowledge home; and one third is spent on Irish products through contracts. Thus in a very real sense, this money is spent on Ireland and is invested in the country and in its future.
The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation's Innovation 2020 strategy, published in 2015, sought to bring Ireland’s research and development intensity to 2.5% of gross national product, GNP, by 2020, with increased investment in "Expanding Ireland’s participation in International Research Organisations, including CERN”. With gross expenditure on research and development currently running at 1.2% of gross domestic product, GDP, we have more to do to increase our impact. Investing in science is an important part of growing the economy and of building resilience to future shocks. Joining CERN, with its high-tech opportunities and global connectedness, is an attractive and cost-effective investment for Ireland. The impact of CERN membership extends from the Department of Business Enterprise and Innovation to the Departments of Education and Skills, Health, Finance and Foreign Affairs and Trade. In short, membership of CERN will benefit the entire country.
I welcome the delegation. It is great to have them before the committee today. I thank Professor McNulty for a very comprehensive overview of CERN and the benefits membership would bring. I was fortunate enough to travel to CERN with Professor McNulty earlier this year. We had a very productive two days meeting with the academics, researchers and technicians there. I certainly learned an awful lot more about it from that occasion than I knew previously. I also acknowledge Professor Emmanuel Tsesmelis, who came from CERN to Dublin and met with Professor McNulty and me this summer to explore the case for Irish membership.
Professor McNulty has clearly and powerfully outlined the many benefits of Irish membership. He has covered the underlying strands and has cast quite a wide arc. One thing I had not appreciated that struck me on-site at CERN was the breadth of activities. We talk about particle physics and of course that is core to it, but there is also everything from big data to electronics, semiconductors, software services, hardware services, data management, pipelining and high-performance computing. Such a range of activities take place, each of which is a spin-off field of its own and creates opportunities of its own. Irish researchers, academics and workers could be to the fore of all of them if we joined the organisation. That is another strong case to be made.
As mentioned it in Professor McNulty's presentation, the reputational effect is also important. Everyone on the committee should have a look at the map showing who is and is not a member of CERN. It shocked me. As professor McNulty has outlined, there are only three European Union states that are not CERN members; Moldova, Bosnia and ourselves. The members include countries that are sometimes considered to be less developed than Ireland. There are members or associate members across the world, including the developing word. That is quite stark. It is something that we need to address post haste.
The case nearly makes itself. As Professor McNulty has said, it is relevant to the knowledge economy. I refer to the economic strategy we have pursued since the days of Thomas Kenneth Whitaker and Seán Lemass, based on investment in education and opportunity and building a skill set to compete at that level. We know that older industries and manufacturing have gone away. Joining CERN ties into the knowledge economy-based intellectual capital that we have been trying to nurture for 40 years. It is a continuation of that and makes a lot of sense given everything else we are trying to do.
I have two questions. It is important to get the answers on record to understand and tease these issues out. The first question is the cost. This came up as recently as the budget last week, during which CERN was discussed. I made representations, as did others, and had discussions with the relevant Minister. The cost was cited as an obstacle. As I understand it, there are a couple of different price tags. One can go high or low, depending on one's level of readiness. For €1.3 million we can get most of the benefits. It is my understanding that there is no commitment or timeline. We could join at the base level and stay there for as long as we wished, for five or ten years.
The cost is €1.3 million. There is no commitment to increase that if we are not in a position to do so. Could Professor McNulty confirm that?
I also wish to raise the multiplier effect. The best comparator here is the European Space Agency, which I also visited last year with the Minister of State, Deputy John Halligan. A sevenfold multiplier effect is sometimes cited there. For every €1 invested, one gets €7 back. A multiplier effect applies to the European Southern Observatory as well, and I understand CERN has one too. It is not a case of merely handing money over to someone else. Multiples of that money come back. Perhaps the professor could elaborate on the cost and the multiplier effect in direct benefits to Irish businesses and academics .
Before Professor McNulty answers, I note that in a written response to a parliamentary question in July 2018 the cost of full membership of CERN was quoted at approximately €15 million. This committee has discussed CERN before and we heard figures like that. I want to put that into the mix and ask the witnesses to debate the two different prices. I see from the map that there are member states, associated members and then countries with co-operation agreements. That probably determines the price.
Professor Ronan McNulty:
Exactly. The Institute of Physics report includes a breakdown of those issues. The membership fee is linked to the GDP of the country. As such, it can fluctuate from year to year based on a complicated formula deriving from the previous three years data. Full membership would cost €13 million. However, one is allowed to be an associate member for any percentage of that above 10%. That is why I said "from". The minimum cost of entry is €1.3 million.
The only disadvantage to joining at a lower rate is that we would get fewer benefits. The return an associate member gets is capped at the amount it has paid. When a state joins as a full member, there is no cap. If Ireland joined at €1.3 million, our contracts would be capped at about a third of that. At what level we would join is really a question of policy. Indeed, there have been discussions between CERN and advisers here. There is a feeling that the 10% level might be too low and we might wish to join at 20% or 30%. We would have to look at where we could avail of the contracts and where the opportunities are and then join at an appropriate level. The fact that we would not be locked into anything would mean that we could scale up or down if desired, provided our contribution was above 10%.
Professor McNulty's submission is very comprehensive. I am sure all of the witnesses feel that membership of CERN would be hugely advantageous to our country. I am really looking forward to hearing from Professor Brendan McClean on the health implications Professor McNulty outlines in section 5 of his submission, "Medical Devices and Public Health". That angle could give us more leverage when we discuss this with the Minister.
Professor Ronan McNulty:
The €1.3 million option does not cost a huge amount for what we would get. We could not join tomorrow at €13 million. The Government would have to ramp up spending in any case, because CERN has to see that the country can benefit at an appropriate level. That addresses that question. Will I move on?
Professor Ronan McNulty:
I will give the committee a few figures concerning the multiplier effect and the value.
One statistic Jean-Marie Le Goff came out with in the European Commission was that every €1 paid to industrial firms generates €3 of additional sales for it. That is merely sales, and nothing about the extra knowledge benefits. It is just purely how much money they made. Mr. Hendrick has a similar story that I hope the committee will have time to hear about his company at CERN, and the multiplier effect there that seems to be a lot bigger than three. There is also a survey by Bianchi-Streit that showed a factor of four on both sales and cost savings that companies had.
This, however, does not take account of the knowledge that one also acquires. If one includes the knowledge that a company gains by being involved at the cutting edge, the multiplier is much greater. Surveys of companies have been done and they have found that 40% of companies working at CERN developed new products, 40% increased their international users and 40% increased their technology learning. A study by John Womersley for the Science and Technology Facilities Council came up with a ten-fold return on investment for the collider that preceded large Hadron Collider and included improvements to the economy and in terms of the training of physicists, or valuing the training aspects of that.
Depending on how one does the calculation, which is not an easy one to do, one gets a factor of between three and ten. That does not include things like game-changing and completely disruptive technologies like the world wide web, which, as we know, came out of CERN. If one includes how one values that, one realises that 20% of the GDP of modern economies is a result of the Internet, and that comes from a McKinsey report.
Quite apart from a straight multiplier of three to ten, there is the chance of something huge that changes the whole of civilisation.
Professor Brendan McClean:
In Ireland this year there will be around 25,000 new cancer patients. That is expected to double in the next 20 to 30 years, so it is a significant increase. Of the number of cancer patients, 50% to 60% would benefit from radiotherapy. Radiotherapy is mostly given with external beam radiotherapy using particle accelerators. Professor McNulty just mentioned that we have around 30 to 35 particle accelerators in this country, used for radiotherapy purposes. There are developments in accelerators. There is a type of treatment called proton treatment, which we do not have in this country. One of the reasons we do not is the cost. The price tag is around €100 million for a particular facility. CERN develops proton accelerators. It is currently investigating reducing the footprint and cost of such devices. That would eventually impact in Ireland. If it can come up with a device that is smaller and cheaper, that would benefit cancer patients as well.
I thank Professor McClean. That was very informative.
Some months ago we all would have heard on the news about an ill child in England whose parents were bringing him to Europe for proton treatment. That was the first time I had heard of it. Professor McClean has now explained it. I did not understand it at the time.
I call Senator Mac Lochlainn.
My party provided funding for associate membership in its alternative budget. Professor McNulty's presentation was comprehensive and I cannot see a single reason we are not already at least an associate member and building up towards being a full member, especially when one thinks of the profile of the multinational companies across the State. We boast about the various areas of activity and about being a modern, open economy. This is extraordinary. Professor McNulty's compared Ireland with a number of countries. This report was published in response to then Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, who visited CERN four years ago. Why are we not already a member? Considering this report was published in 2014 in response to a Government initiative, why has this not been sported out?
If we were to go for associate membership, it would cost of €1.3 million, which is an extraordinarily low amount for something that would have significant benefit across a range of sectors in our economy from the public service to the private sector. Will Professor McNulty give us a bit more information on the process where one would start at associate level with a 20% contribution and then scale up? It appears to me to be an absolute no-brainer that we would immediately move to the €1.3 million, or 10%, contribution, get involved and take it from there.
Professor Ronan McNulty:
On the Senator's first question on why we are not a member, I think I will just throw it back to him. I have no idea why we are not a member. It seems to me to be a no-brainer when one looks at the benefits and the fact that the money that is spent is spent on Ireland. It is not like we giving this money to Switzerland. It is for us and for our future. When we had the downturn in economies, countries that had invested more in technology did better during that downturn. We are investing in our futures. I honestly cannot answer the Senator's first question.
On the second question, we could look at the example of Israel, if one wishes. There are many similarities with Ireland in terms of the population size and the high-technology economy. However, it is quite different in terms of committing funding to research. At the moment we spend 1.2% of our GDP while Israel spends 4.2% of its GDP, which is over three times more. It has decided that is the way to improve its economy. One of the reasons was that it saw CERN as a way of using this money to benefit it. When it decided to join CERN, it wanted to join as quickly as possible and took the fastest route possible to full membership which took three years. In that period, its contract with CERN jumped from €1 million to €3 million in terms of the money its companies were getting.
I will give members some other interesting facts on Israel. One of the things in which it got very involved was trade fairs. It had a trade fair which Professor O'Shea attended in the Weizmann Institute. In turn, Israeli companies were invited to come to CERN and a synergy or environment was created where business was talking to CERN and the scientists, and facilitating a very vibrant hotbed to spearhead different projects.
Israel had one or two teachers who used to visit CERN until it became full members. In the year it became a full member, 40 teachers visited and they were being educated in the latest technology to enable them to go back and teach in the schools. It had about 20 schoolchildren going to CERN each year before it joined. Now, 200 per year are going. In the summer for undergraduates to go to CERN. Each year it has three to four students going around. Some 25% of the students who go are Palestinian. There is an example of CERN not just doing the science but also the world peace agenda. Scientists judge one based on one's science and the common goal of understanding the universe not on one's politics. Israel now has 30 PhD students working at CERN every year. That is an example of how it took that decision and ramped up as rapidly as possible.
It is a policy decision and I am not sure that is the model that Ireland wants to use. Ireland may want to go in at 10% or 20%. One might find that we fulfil our quota of contracts, so we might want to up the amount. That is fine and we will do so. One might find that we do not fulfil that quota, so we might want to lower the amount. However, one has that flexibility, so it does not hurt.
I glanced through the submission, which is very impressive across a number of heading. What is the level of engagement with the Department and Government? Has anybody given feedback on the submission? Has anybody said why this has not been done? It is absolutely extraordinary when one looks at the submission. We are talking about 2014, which four years ago. I would like to know what Department officials met with the witnesses on the back of the submission and what reason they have given for not taking this on board after four years?
Mr. Ed Hendrick:
I will go back a number of years to give some context. We are a Wexford technology start-up. We started building a product in 2007-08 and we launched in 2009 in the Irish market. At the end of 2010, we raised some seed funding to expand into Europe. Our first port of call was to go to the UK market. It sounds easy to just go into that market and start winning business. First, we presented at a trade show in Birmingham and were lucky to meet the CERN head of recruitment at that conference. A few weeks later, CERN staff started trialling our software and became our first export customer. We would never have looked at Switzerland in the early stages of exporting but it has become one of our strongest markets now in Europe, purely because of that first client, CERN, which we started working with in 2011.
One of the major advantages of working with CERN has been their willingness to share what they learn. We found it a significant plus that they have been so willing to share with other companies in Switzerland and around the world their experience of using our product. In 2011, they had been using our product for six to nine months. They invited the recruitment team at Nestlé who are based and headquartered in Vevey to CERN and meet the recruitment team and to learn how they were using this new interview product that they had been working with six to nine months. As a result of this Nestlé quickly became a customer. There was a massive networking effect from working with them.
Something else that has made a great difference to us has been the willingness of CERN to speak at conferences and promote the different products they are using and to explain to peers at conferences how they are using Sonru. This has also led to many new customers coming our way based on its recommendation.
From a business perspective, we have experienced significant benefits from working with CERN. Building credibility is one of the toughest things a new company has to do launching a new product into any market, let alone an export market, and to have that stamp of approval from such a wonderful organisation makes a great difference and can accelerate the process of winning business, which is what we are all about. From our perspective it is a no-brainer as well.
One of the challenges we have had has been that Ireland not being a member of the organisation has made it more difficult to become a supplier to CERN. Back in 2011, we had few competitors because we had a new, innovative product. CERN did not have too many options but to work with us. As that market has grown and matured, more competitors have come into our space and there are more options for CERN, particularly in its member states and associate member states. This is a threat to us and it would be a huge challenge for us not to work with CERN and not to benefit from all that it brings.
Mr. Ed Hendrick:
Of course it has, yes. In 2011, we employed ten people. We now employ approximately 60 people. We have grown a lot in six or seven years. James Purvis, who is head of recruitment at CERN, has taken calls from potential clients in Australia at awful hours of the morning. CERN has been willing to do this. It has been an incredible advocate for what we do, and that makes a great difference. It is hard to buy that. One can spend millions of euro on advertising and one will still not get that effect that a reference customer like CERN would be able to provide for a company.
Professor Val O'Shea:
I am a technologist. My interest is in developing technology not just for high-energy physics but for a range of applications. I work with Professor McClean on aspects of medical imaging. I would like to stress, which has not arisen enough in our discussion, the hit rate of CERN for EU funding. They get 35% versus an average of 12%. I am a vice-chairman on the physics evaluation panel for a number of different funding instruments and I see these projects that come. They have access to the best expertise because they know all of the people. This is an international process. They have expertise in putting together proposals and they achieve a hit rate of three times more. If Ireland was a member of CERN, it would have similar access to funding. This would increase EU funding to this country considerably.
On technology, I worked at CERN for six years and then went to Glasgow, but I was still able to access technologies through the organisation that I cannot find anywhere else in the world. It is about networking, being able to access expertise and to use stuff that one would not be able to get even in the Tyndall National Institute, which has a high level of expertise, but it does not have it all together. That enables me to dream up new innovations such as Medipix. Medipix is a toy for looking at X-rays in colour. All of the big computed tomography, CT, companies are now working on what is known as full spectral CT, which is a new way of taking CT images - they are vital diagnostic tools for cancer - with full colour resolution. This enables one to take better images with lower dose. Philips, Siemens, GE and Hitachi are all working on this technology and it was all invented at CERN.
On the 10% for associate membership, as this percentage increases, there are different economies of scale. The utopian aspiration is full membership. What in the opinion of our guests would be appropriate, given financial constraints, etc? I am trying to look at this from a prudent point of view. What would be an appropriate membership for Ireland starting off?
Professor Ronan McNulty:
I have not done a full survey of all of the contracts and of the other aspects. Something like 20% or 30% would be more appropriate. We should certainly be in there at 10% or more. It seems crazy not to be a member. If one is not in, one does not have access to any of these things. The fact that one is a member is a springboard to all sorts of other opportunities. It is about opportunities.
Professor Ronan McNulty:
Exactly, one would not be able to get more than €400,000 approximately from the totality of all CERN contracts in a year. CERN would cap the member at that amount. If one is purely looking at that aspect, then one would ask what can Ireland provide? What are we likely to be able to provide? One would then set what level one would want to go in at according to that evaluation.
There is a great deal more than just that. There are all of the education and training aspects-----
Professor Ronan McNulty:
It is pro ratathe whole way up. The only place that it is not pro rated is if one is a full member. Then there is no cap on what one can get. The other advantage of being full members is that one has a voice on the council.
One would be dictating the policy of CERN and have a voice in the area of physics at European and level, but there is no seat on the council unless the full membership fee is paid.
Dr. Sheila Gilheany:
There is another aspect to the contract with CERN. CERN tries to make sure every full member country gets something back. It aims for a return coefficient of 0.9 when it measures how much a country puts in against how much it gets out. As one might expect,Switzerland does very well simply because it is located there. If we look at smaller countries, similar to Ireland, such as Hungary and Portugal, they have a return ratio of 1.3 or 1.1. In some cases, they do better than larger countries such as the United Kingdom simply because they are smaller and agile. By comparison they are not putting in that much in the first place, but frequently they have niche businesses that are well suited to what is going on in CERN.
Dr. Sheila Gilheany:
CERN works very closely with its members. As it wants its members to do well, it works closely with them to see how it can help. Trade fares were mentioned. For example, something it will do is go to a particular country. I will use Northern Ireland as an example. Invest Northern Ireland brought over a delegation from CERN and a small company based in County Fermanagh, Elite Electronic Systems, received a multi-million pound contract to supply electronic devices for use in the large hadron collider, LHC. That came about through direct contact, by bringing people around and showing them companies. A total of 20 companies in Ireland have had contracts with CERN. We conducted a survey of IDA Ireland backed companies that we felt were in this space. We surveyed the managements of approximately 200 companies and asked whether they would be in favour of Ireland joining CERN. Approximately 80% stated they would because they could see the opportunities. That is the type of multiplier we could see quite quickly in putting people together in a room and showing what they could do. There is such a possibility.
What is maximum available? There is no cap for full members. Approximately €350 million is available in grants. The figures about which we are speaking are a tiny percentage of this sum. Can countries outside Europe be full members? Are there full members outside Europe? Is membership limited to the 27 or 28 member states of the European Union?
Professor Ronan McNulty:
Certainly Israel has a vote on the council. The United States joined in a very special way just before work on the LHC started. I honestly do not know what are its voting rights. We would have to ask CERN's international relations expert about it as I cannot say. I think it is just members that can vote, but there is some discussion at CERN about who is entitled to be a full member. It certainly started off in 1954 as a European organisation, but, to be quite honest, today it is a world organisation. It is not just a European organisation. As I said, there is some debate at CERN about who can and cannot be a full member. It is becoming a world organisation.
In that case, my only comment is whatever about us not having a sense of it before, we now have a very clear sense of its value, as well as the hidden unseen value in networking, education, opportunities and multipliers, let alone the hard and fast side of things - jobs and the opportunities presented. I am very supportive of membership. I do not know whether I am wrong, but I thought the Minister of State, Deputy John Halligan, was also very supportive of it. I hope we will manage to convince the powers that be to take a sizeable piece of the action and build from there, as the delegates have suggested.
Any time the Minister of State, Deputy John Halligan, has come before the committee, he has been supportive of it, but the cost has always been raised as a factor. Would there be any disadvantage to us as a country in being a member of CERN?
That is quite obvious. When we stop and look at the map, it tells the story. More than two thirds of us are new politicians who were elected for the first time in the most recent general election. Two committee members have been here longer. While we have had discussions on CERN, we have never had such a comprehensive discussion. I had never seen the medical side of it. Sometimes it needs to be spelled out and it is very welcome to hear it. I am sure the possibilities for Irish researchers, students and engineers to partake in CERN, if Ireland was a member, would be wide open.
Professor Sinéad Ryan:
Yes. I will make a number of points, including about education. As we know that there is a shortage, we want to recruit more people generally into STEM subjects and particularly to address the gender balance. CERN is an attractor for students generally into science, technology, engineering and maths, STEM, subjects. It asks the exciting and interesting questions with which young people are taken. They get into subjects such as physics, maths, engineering and technology in order that they can be part of it. CERN makes a dedicated effort to provide education for associate member countries and member countries at all levels. There is teacher training - imagine this - at primary school level and secondary school level, not just at university level. It really supports an ecosystem for training and the advancement of technology and IT skills throughout the entire country. This is an important message that CERN membership brings.
CERN is trying to answer these fundamental questions, but in order to do so, it must invent new technology. The questions it asks cannot be answered or tackled with the technology we have available today. That was also true in the past. It invents new algorithms, computers and magnets and we can be part of that work. The 2014 Forfás report identified skill shortages as one of the key challenges for Ireland in the area of big data and data analytics. I chair the scientific steering committee for advanced computing in Europe. We see the convergence of high performance computing and big data. We know that it will not just be for the traditional areas in physics and chemistry, but that it will spill over into the life sciences. There will be machine learning and big data application in the life sciences and dealing with societal issues in the areas of cryptography, security and self-driving cars. We will need to understand big data and be able to manage them. The skills developed at CERN are the skills needed. We can be part of and benefit from CERN.
Professor Val O'Shea:
I spent five years at CERN as an engineer, not as a scientist per se, after graduating from UCC. It is why I do technology. Being there was like being a child in a sweet shop because it has all of the technology. People pick and choose where they want to go and what they want to learn. As a young engineer starting off, there was no better place in the world I could have gone to.
There is no doubt about the passion and enthusiasm of the delegates. We have heard many presentations and they have been so positive.
I return to Mr. Hendrick. I am sure that plenty of other companies throughout Ireland would have a similar story to tell on the positives of membership of CERN and what it would mean to their companies.
Mr. Ed Hendrick:
Yes, absolutely. If this were opened up across the board, whereby companies were allowed to submit tenders for projects at CERN, it could mean a lot of new business for businesses in Ireland. SocialTalent, which was mentioned in our opening notes is a good example. It is a company from Dublin that we introduced to CERN. We had been working with CERN for a couple of years, SocialTalent had started up and was growing and as we felt it could be of great value to CERN to work with SocialTalent, we provided the introduction and because of that valued recommendation CERN started working with SocialTalent very quickly. That networking effect is vast and its potential is huge.
I was caught up at another meeting so I apologise for missing most of the witnesses' presentation although I did see a little bit of it on the screen. Deputy Lawless has been a great spokesman for us on the witnesses' behalf and I support his sentiments. We think it is a progressive step and it would be regressive of us not to be involved. Keep up the good work.
I went over with Professor McNulty and I thank him and CERN for inviting me over and having me that day. It is great that we have had the opportunity to go full circle and have these six witnesses before the committee today. It has been an excellent and powerful presentation. As far as I can tell, cross-party support is emerging from the committee, which is great to see. At the end of the day we still have to convince the Minister but let us all work on that and get to that as the next step.