Meet the expat building Sweden's biggest ever science project

8:19 min

British scientist John Womersley took over as head of the European Spallation Source (ESS) in November. Listen in as he shows us what's going on inside the particle accelerator tunnel.

John Womersely has had some of the biggest jobs going in Big Science: he’s been on the council at CERN, and chief executive of the United Kingdom's funding agency for large-scale science facilities and laboratories.

But his new role as Director General of ESS, the largest science investment ever undertaken by Sweden, is something special. 

"ESS is one of the largest science projects currently under construction in Europe, and even in the world," he says, as he showed Radio Sweden the tunnel that will house the most powerful linear particle accelerator ever built. 

"It's a huge privilege for me to take over something which is a construction site right now but which will have the capabiltiy to do really world-leading science in five years' time."

Along with the Max IV Synchrotron radiation facility, a giant X-ray machine, which we can see over the fields, ESS will put this part of southern Sweden, around Lund, on the global science map.

"This is a long term investment – quite a visionary investment by Sweden and Denmark," he says. "But they can make that investment with the confidence that it will pay off." 

Womersley has to try and draw the top particle scientists and technicians from across the world, not too hard with such an exciting project. There are already 409 staff from 48 countries. The problem is finding jobs for spouses and schools for children. 

ESS is an European Research Infrastructure Consortium (Eric), a framework established by the European Union (EU), but is not itself a European Union project (as stated in the radio program). 

Individual Eric projects are not initiated or funded by the EU, and are open to countries from other states.   

And Womersley's home country, the United Kingdom, has committed to remaining a partner despite last year's referendum vote to leave the EU.  

But 'Brexit' has bought Womersley worries of his own. 

"I know what will happen with Brexit with ESS, but I don't know what will happen to me personally, because I have a UK passport and I'm currently live in Denmark and work in Sweden, and I very much hope that the Brexit negotiations allow me to continue to do that."