Blog Post

Large Hadron Collider Powered By…Apple?

If you check out the webcams at the European Organization for Nuclear Research’s CMS project, you may just observe something rather unexpected.

Although the picture below is from CERN, it’s much more akin to a boring office space than a scientific laboratory. However, look a little closer and you might notice something out of the ordinary. It seems that some of the research at CERN may be powered by Apple (s aapl).

The scientists over at CERN are doing some serious research, using data from the Large Hadron Collider for something called the Compact Muon Solenoid Experiment. While it’s not clear if this is an officially sanctioned MacBook, using Apple gear for scientific research is nothing new.

Drew McCormack is Chief Developer over at The Mental Faculty. Alongside creating apps for Mac and iPhone to aid learning, he’s also a board member of, an independent community of scientists using Apple software and hardware for their research.

Drew took a moment to explain why Apple is on the rise in the scientific community, “There has been a trend over the last few years in US Universities for students to buy a MacBook or MacBook Pro. This has given Apple a leg up in higher education.”

Mac’s aren’t just for science students though, as Drew explains, “The rise in student uptake of Macs is gradually leading to more and more interest in Macs as scientific workstations. A Mac can be used to answer email, surf the web, and write scientific articles, but it can equally run high-performance calculations. This is due to the UNIX underpinnings of Mac OS X, and more recently to Apple’s emphasis on performance in Snow Leopard. Technologies like OpenCL and Grand Central are very attractive to scientists who need to crunch numbers.”

Over the coming years, perhaps we’ll see a few scientific breakthroughs made possible by Apple devices, that is if the LHC doesn’t trigger the end of the universe and ultimate destruction of humankind first.

35 Responses to “Large Hadron Collider Powered By…Apple?”

  1. Tordah

    Wow, really? This is all you have for a blog entry.


    Regardless, Mac OS X is an excellent scientific platform, primarily because of the UNIX underpinnings, but also because of the commercial nature of the OS itself; commercial software is actually released for it.

  2. John Slade

    I find that the author of this article did not do his homework. He titled the article “Large Hadron Collider Powered By…Apple?” when that question should never have been asked in the first place. It’s all to easy to go to the web site LHC Computer Grid and find that the LHC is powered by Scientific Linux. Any JOURNALIST could easily have found out this information. Instead they seem to want to use the fact that one person uses a laptop made by Apple to promote Apple as powering the project.

    I think journalistic standards should prevail over promoting of a product. Shameless promotion of a product does not lend itself to any sort of credibility.

  3. What are you an idiot? Srysly!

    What makes you feel that “one single Mac” runs the entire LHC project? Also, do you see all those keyboards and displays around the cubes? What do you think they are connected to? Some backend systems – probably a cluster of Linux/*U*x*/Windoze/or some junk like that.

    And when was the last time you went to a univ and NOT find a good/healthy mix of WinTel-PCs and Macs? The LHC is housed in a pseudo-univ – there people just don’t want to grow up and they believe they can keep doing experiments on tax-payers money.

    Macs are fairly capable systems. Clusters of Macs are known to provide supercomputing performance – heck they are just Intel chips with super-duper NVidia GPUS.

    So, srysly – stop getting excited that you saw somebody at LHC using a Mac. For all you know he’s just a janitor browsing pr0nz.

  4. Went to have an ECG or somesuch the other day. the kit they used in the hospital was hooked up to a 17″ iMac for viewing. There – that is a fact. Add it to your list. The only thing holding me back from using a Mac at work is the specialist engineering software I use is only written for PC. It’s not as big and fancy as the integrated asset model of geological field models (for which we use, yes you guessed it – PC’s running Linux). Meh – lost my point, sorry

    • Cool, would love to get photos. Which hospital?

      FYI, it’s actually very easy to port Linux apps to OS X because they are very similar. Linux is unix-like, while Mac OS X is certified UNIX.

      One benefit of OS X is that coding for parallel computing, used for high-performance computing (aka supercomputers) is already built into Mac OS X Snow Leopard. That saves app developers time, so instead of recreating what’s already done for parallel computing, when they use Macs, developers have more time to actually improve their apps.

  5. jopester

    I thought the picture from CERN back in Nov from the journal Nature (One of the very top scientific journals in any field) would have made the rounds on MAC sites long ago. See:

    The guy is holding his MacBook up to the camera with the caption “back in business”.. And yes I too am a molecular biologist and can vouch that very many of us have been using Macs for more than a decade. They are great for microscopy and are actually the only computers Becton Dickinson supports for their flow cytometers.

  6. Adam Jackson

    You all know i love TAB but this article is a bit…bloggy. You could have written them a letter, looked for more evidence, done some research into how CERN works and tried to find out what software they use for experiments and seen if there is a mac version.

    check flickr photos tagged, “cern”. I’m just saying that this reeks of fanboy and as much as a fanboy as I am, it’s just bad reporting. put some more effort into it next time.

    That’s all I’m saying.

    • This IS a blog.

      This is NOT a news site. I am a journalist in broadcast news, and regularly post written web stores along with traditional reporting. We also post blog entries. Blog entries sound nothing like actual reporting.

      If you want to find an actual story about this, go to a NEWS site and search for it.

    • I would semi agree with Alex here.

      I do consider us a blog and not a “news” site per se. Meaning we’re just as likely to post something light-hearted and random as we are something with every angle thought out and addressed.

      This is not something we tried to explore every aspect of and tell you ever app every person at CERN users. Just a random, “have a nice day” post.

      I, however, do NOT agree with what Alex has said elsewhere that we don’t fact check or try our best to write ethically and factually accurate posts. That’s always our goal. As with any place, we don’t always hit the mark (not purposefully), but it’s always our aim.

    • adamjackson

      Not to piss anyone off here but I disagree with both of you.

      Alex, it’s a blog that’s owned by a larger organization (GigaOm) and thus has journalistic integrity at stake for the sake of page views, google ranking, techmeme, google news and other agregators not to mention advertisers as well.

      Josh, you know I respect what you guys are doing and I thoroughly enjoy what you guys are doing here. I just know that I could write a better “OMFG APPLE IS AWESOME” piece on my Twitter stream. If you’re going to post a grainy photo from CERN and claim Macs are more popular in scientific markets than we expect then prove it.

      Show some stats, get some facts and at least try to measure in on why Apple is better. That’s all I’m saying. I’m not trying to upset anyone but you can’t ignore the fact that this article needs to be better because a few thousand people want better and come here for a reason.

  7. Macs in scientific research is nothing new. I am a molecular biologist, and Macs have been the only computers used for any real work in any lab I have worked in over the last 15 years. You will find the occasional PC-using lab, but they are rare. Typically the only PCs you will see in a modern biology lab are very cheap machines that were included along with certain lab equipment and used only to collect data (which is then promptly taken to a Mac.)

  8. Tim Cox

    Yes, Apple laptops are much more common at CERN, and in high-energy physics in general, than they used to be. I’d say, from occasional checks of the laptops around me in hep meetings nowadays, that the Mac proportion is maybe 80%. But the serious computing at CERN uses PC farms, running Linux. This is by far the most cost-effective solution for the large-scale computing needs. But people use their laptops for everyday personal computing: mail, web browsing, editing, document preparation and reading, presentations, and even some (light) data analysis, which has become a lot easier for the scientific community now Mac OS X has Unix underpinnings. And finally, as an aside, remember the web was developed – at CERN – on NeXT machines :)

  9. I used to work at CERN. All of the detector controls are run on hard-wired Linux boxes. Monitoring the detector is not the most exciting task, so most people bring in their personal laptops for something to do. I can almost guarantee it’s not running OS X though.

    • Compatibility varies throughout the field. Coding C++ and applying programs to data files (text) is pretty platform-independent these days, which is what they do at CERN.

  10. Gazoobee

    This is kind of a dumb article.

    Anyone who works at any major University or scientific concern knows that Apple computers are used quite a lot in those situations.

    The idea that there wouldn’t be Macs there because it’s a “serious scientific place” is just stupid.

    • It’s not necessarily a dumb article, it just draws incorrect conclusions based on a fanboy reaction to a webcam picture. CERN’s needs are unique, which is why they developed their own custom Linux distro. The fact that there are Macs in the control room is hardly enough evidence to draw the conclusion that the author does, but then again nobody really takes the Apple Blog seriously.

    • “…but then again nobody really takes the Apple Blog seriously”

      Right you are!!!! ;)

      My mom takes us seriously. So that counts for at least one person, making your “nobody” claim sensationalist and factually incorrect.

      BOOM! Have a nice day. :)

  11. We’re used to seeing the Macbooks slung in record bags by graphic designers but not so much on the table of a laboratory. I think what’s really interesting here is to see Apple hardware being taken up by the scientific community.

    @Henry, it seems that Macs really are being used to do calculations too. I have contacts who are researching both at Oxford and Cambridge and using Apple hardware to plough through swathes of data for their research.

  12. Hate to break it to you, but physicists use their laptops like everyone else, viz. to write on. Real heavy duty calculations are run on Linux clusters these days.

  13. He could also be using it for personal use. My place of employment uses PCs, but if I need to finish up some personal stuff or even happen to have my MBP with me, I bring it in and use it on my downtime and/or breaks. That’s not to say the post is entirely incorrect, but there are too many reasons as to why he has a Mac to speculate, in my opinion.