Rising Stars – Geothermal Energy and New Physics at the LHC

What potential does the UK have for using geothermal energy?

From the Department of Earth Sciences Lizzy Midgley gave a talk on her final year research into geothermal energy. Lizzy explained that while Sweden and the UK have very similar temperature distributions Sweden produces 790 time more energy from geothermal than the UK. This bizarre statistic has led to this research into the UK’s potential for using geothermal energy. I talked to Lizzy before her presentation and this is what she had to say.

Can you give us a summary of your research?

No one’s really done any investigation into the geothermal potential of the UK since the eighties because we’ve had so much oil there’s been no need to. But now people are looking into it a bit more because everyone’s going green, so we want to know how much geothermal potential we have. No one’s worked out how much energy we’ve got stored down there, so that’s what I tried to do. I used a similar method to the one they’ve used in Australia and America for the UK.

What drew you to this area of research?

I’ve always been interested in renewables and that was one of the best options [for investigation].

What’s the next step in this research?

Next year my supervisor’s hoping to expand what I’ve done already because I haven’t been able to look at the whole of the UK. Also, a lot needs to be done in certain areas, as I’m only doing a broad view of whether there is geothermal energy there. I’m not actually looking into can it be exploited and how much it would cost to exploit. [But] I think it has been done in some areas commercially.

What do you think about the potential of geothermal energy to power the UK?

It does have potential. I’m not sure how much energy the UK requires but you can get 10MW power plants quite easily. They’re building one at the moment. A lot of countries with very similar geothermal resources bases are producing a lot of electricity from it, but we’re not. So I think even if we can’t power the whole country through geothermal energy then we can definitely have a large proportion of it [powered by geothermal energy].

As Lizzy mentioned, this area of research is already being put into practice in a geothermal plant in Redruth, Cornwall. This plant aims to produce 10MW of electricity and 55MW of heat for the local community.

Lizzy is going on to a medical degree. We wish her all the best for the future.

The Large Hadron Collider at CERN, where these new theories may be proven or disproven

From the Department of Physics, Alix Wilcox gave a talk on her fourth year project into the physics which goes beyond the Standard Model of particles. Specifically, Alix focused on the developments at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland. She went on to outline the role of computer simulations in developing methods which could use future LHC data to determine the properties of particles which are predicted by supersymmetry. I caught up with her after her talk and here’s what she had to say.

Can you give us a summary of your research?

We used the Monte Carlo method to simulate what you’d expect to collect at the LHC, and then looking at how we can analyse that to learn about new physics which goes beyond the standard model. [Including] a couple of theories, supersymmetry and extra dimensions, so looking at how we can determine properties of particles that are predicted by those theories.

What drew you to this area of research?

I think the main thing has to be the LHC just starting up, a incredibly exciting time for particle physics. And obviously we’re all expecting, or hoping, we’ll see something soon.

What are your thoughts on the Higgs Boson then, is it a sure thing?

Well nothing’s a sure thing! To be honest it’s not my area of expertise. I don’t know if we’ll find it but it would be very interesting if we did, obviously, to find something completely new.

You talked a lot about supersymmetry, are there any other theories which you think may be correct?

I really think supersymmetry is the most popular for a reason, because it’s the most successful [at describing a correct model]. In my project I also looked at another one which was [regarding] extra dimensions and that really…well, I like supersymmetry!

Why do you think it’s important to look beyond the Standard Model, are there many practical implications?

It’s difficult, the main motivation of this work is just to understand the universe better. I mean there are not a lot of practical implications, other than the technology that we develop, because when we were developing the LHC there was the spin off with the World Wide Web. It’s more about the technology we develop while we learn about the universe that could be useful to the rest of the world. Less so about the findings!

Alix is going on to do a PhD in Physics at Durham. We wish her all the best for the future.

Next week Paul Taylor reports on Lyle Entwistle’s talk on Sudoku.

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