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Posted: 03:21:03 PM, 09/10/2013

Technologies developed at CERN

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Hi everyone. My official name is Javier D. Garcia-Lasheras, but you can simply call me Javi. I'm a Spanish electronics hacker who has worked in a wide range of areas in the electronics and computing industries, from microelectronic research to operating systems. Throughout my career, two complementary issues have constantly attracted my attention: How can fundamental science and electronic technology mutually benefit each other, and what can one do to act as a catalyst for this synergy?

Once upon a time, a scientist working alone was able to accomplish breakthrough discoveries or develop new technologies with a limited budget. Just think of the way Faraday changed the world by harnessing the power of electricity. Today the complexities associated with fundamental research lead us to use cooperative, multi-disciplinary development teams to cope with the huge budgets imposed by the new challenges we face.

A superb example of this is the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN), where literally thousands of scientists and engineers from tens of countries work together in massive research facilities. In this environment, the first web server and web pages were developed by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 for helping scientists share data and documents. This vague but exciting idea, initially intended for a scientific environment, has changed the ways in which we all communicate and live.


SM18, the CERN transnational facility for testingsuperconducting technologies.

SM18, the CERN transnational facility for testing superconducting technologies.

Building CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world's biggest particle smasher, required the development of a new generation of radiation-hardened electronics, solid state devices, cryogenic superconductors, and big-data processing architectures. The LHC has finally led to the discovery of a candidate for the long-sought Higgs boson, a key piece of the standard model of fundamental particles. Only by pushing state-of-the-art technology to its limits have we been able to test our best theory for describing the quantum world across energies that range from absolute zero to near-Big Bang temperatures.

Recently, I had the honour, the privilege, and the pleasure of spending a week at CERN working with a young team of hardware developers. While there, I had the opportunity to discover more about the work they are undertaking. They split their time between developing the electronic building blocks used to perform gargantuan physics experiments and determining the best way to bring this technology to the masses.


Javi at CERN.

Javi at CERN.

To give you a quick example, I was able to see a new generation of open EDA tools that rival their commercial counterparts. I also saw a brave new control and timing network protocol that outperforms the accuracy of the best measurement and control systems in the industry by orders of magnitude. But perhaps the most important thing is that all this amazing stuff is being released into the public domain by building a community-based open-hardware ecosystem and developing open licensing setups.

To help the EE Times-Asia community become aware of all the opportunities that the big science domain is bringing to the world of electronics, I will be using my future columns to keep you on top of things. In the meantime, do you have any questions about how fundamental research may benefit one's day-to-day job as an electronics or computing engineer?

Javier D. Garcia-Lasheras
Open Science Activist


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