The data is presented in two formats. There's an education section, which features "derived data sets" that are slightly less taxing for your computer (and your grasp of particle physics). Here, high school and college students can look at visualizations of CERN experiments — including the ones that helped win scientists a Nobel Prize for their detection of the Higgs boson particle — and analyze the data for themselves.
In the research section, which requires users to install a virtual machine, the data is presented in its raw form so other researchers can use it. The hope is that getting fresh eyes on the data might yield new insights.
Outside scientists have already used some of the data from the LHC to corroborate CERN's Higgs boson results and to conduct new research of their own. Researchers at MIT worked with CERN physicist Salvatore Rappoccio to apply the data to their work on the substructure of jets — cones of particles that spray out during collisions inside the LHC.
CERN has been making some results of its research publicly available for years. But at 300 terabytes (the equivalent of 20,000 Gmail accounts worth of storage), the latest data dump is by far the biggest yet.
“As scientists, we should take the release of data from publicly funded research very seriously,” Rappoccio said in a statement. “In addition to showing good stewardship of the funding we have received, it also provides a scientific benefit to our field as a whole.”
That's an increasingly popular philosophy in science, a field that for centuries was often dominated by secrecy over researchers' work. (Isaac Newton famously developed his theories of calculus years before he bothered explaining them to anyone, leading to a "calculus controversy" with rival mathematician Gottfried Leibniz over who came up with it first). Many scientists believe that sharing data can help address problems with reproducibility and prevent rivalries from wasting time and public funding.
“If scientists’ role in society is to generate knowledge for both knowledge’s sake and the good of society, then scientists should be sharing both their ideas and their data for everyone to access,” Patricia Soranno, a Michigan State ecology professor who authored a study on data sharing in environmental science, told the Atlantic in 2014. “These practices will ensure that everyone has the opportunity to contribute to moving knowledge forward.”