Building scientific research facilities depends upon the expertise and technologies that emerge from the private sector. Spanish engineering, scientific, and construction companies are making significant contributions to the advancement of knowledge worldwide.
Scientists smash atomic particles to discover secrets of the beginnings of the universe. They fuse the nuclei of atoms in an attempt to re-create the conditions that enflame the sun and furnish it with limitless energy.
Spanish companies participate in contracts for major scientific installations that are worth more than 420 million euros a year. Manuel Serrano heads the scientific program of Spain’s Center for the Development of Industrial Technology, an agency tasked with financing research projects and assisting Spanish companies to reach international markets. “We’re always working with companies to innovate, so that instruments for scientific teams will be the ultimate, the most advanced products,” says Serrano.
These advances, he adds, can extend beyond the project itself: “The development of technology for scientific installations has a very interesting component, that these technologies can also be adapted for consumer products in the future.”
Exploring the Universe’s Origins
Hidden 300 feet beneath the Earth’s surface, and looping for seventeen miles, the Large Hadron Collider flings subatomic particles around a race track at nearly the speed of light and smashes them against one another to explore the secrets of the universe’s beginnings. The LHC, built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), took 16 years and $10 billion to complete. Its first particles began colliding in the spring of 2010.
This machine, the world’s largest collider, demanded extraordinary precision from its suppliers to meet its exacting standards. The tubes through which the particles fly are kept in ultrahigh vacuum conditions to avoid the entrance of any stray particles of gas. The entire system is cooled to -271°C, colder than outer space, while the temperatures generated by colliding particles may become more than 100 thousand times hotter than the temperature of the sun’s core.
Companies from around the world have supplied parts and expertise for the LHC, among them 35 Spanish companies. Scientific research facilities generally work with companies who have already proved themselves through work with other similar facilities. Spain’s DMP, founded in 1999, had developed a core business machining parts for the aerospace market, which demands extremely high precision. “So within the world of the aerospace sector, we have created a small niche [in] manufacturing very difficult segments,” says Philippe Roulet, marketing director.
“We saw that the field of scientific installations also needs extreme precision parts,” says Roulet. So he contacted a purchaser for CERN in Geneva. “He said, ‘Sorry, we’re not interested in the aerospace market, because there isn’t the precision we need.’ I insisted, and sent images of difficult parts that we were making,” recounts Roulet.