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With Yandex at CERN, Search and Science Collide

A Russian search engine helps CERN hunt for elusive particles
CERN's Large Hadron Collider
CERN's Large Hadron ColliderPhotograph by Martial Trezzini/Corbis

As a physicist for the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, Andrei Golutvin spends his days smashing subatomic particles into one another at the Large Hadron Collider, a ­16.8-mile ring of superconducting magnets buried 328 feet under Switzerland and France. The high-energy collisions of his experiment, one of four currently under way at the LHC, hint at the answers to some of nature’s greatest mysteries—and generate about 20 billion data points each year. Searching the enormous archive for collisions that match specific criteria can take hours.

Golutvin got weary of waiting. A few months ago he asked for help from Yandex, the dominant Web search company in his native Russia, and on April  10 the two organizations unveiled the result of their collaboration. The custom-built search engine lets more than 700 physicists working on Golutvin’s experiment instantly sift through about one-twentieth of the data they produce, and tailor searches by 600 criteria, such as time of collision. The Yandex software also produces QR codes to embed into scientific papers, so that other scientists can easily access the underlying data with their smartphones. Overall, the technology “can shorten the chain from idea to realization” of an experiment, says Golutvin.