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A ConCERNing Adventure

24 July 201405:16AMeurope-2014travel

The coolest thing at CERN is, of course, me and Morgan.

so cool.

Nah, only joking. We are probably the only people in the history of ever to blow a railpass day on going to Geneva to see a physics lab's visitor centre, but it was so worth it.

CERN is the Centre European pour la Recherche Nucleaire. It sits literally on the border between Switzerland and France, although if you were going to say it was in a city, you'd choose Geneva, since on the French side there is just alps. CERN is actually the terminus of line 18 in the Geneva tram network, which means that for some lucky bastard their regular tram stop is basically the Large Hadron Collider.

At 1.9 degrees above absolute zero, the LHC is the actual coolest thing at CERN, and to be in proximity to it is sort of the main reason I went. The actual particle accelerator is 100m underground and as devoid of air as the vacuum of space, so you can't actually visit visit. You can hang out in the visitor's centre and do a pretty convincing approximation though.


The LHC is a seriously awesome bit of machinery, but how it works is pretty simple. It's basically a circle of magnets, attached to a particle gun. The magnets bend the stream of particles in a circle so that they smash into each other which creates conditions which are pretty close to how we think the big bang might have been.

This is the kicker. In order to create that kind of energy, you need your particles to have a lot of energy, and to give them a lot of energy you have to speed them up really, really fast. For that, you need a really, really, really big particle accelerator, and the bigger your particle accelerator is, the more precise everything has to be. That, to me, is the really impressive bit. The LHC is a machine that is capable of hitting a bullet with a smaller bullet while riding a horse blindfolded hitting a proton travelling at the speed of light with another proton also travelling at the speed of light from 27 kilometres away.

There's some other cool stuff lying around as well. They have a really neat science museum, with a particle tank that lets you see cosmic rays as they hit the atmosphere, and a demo stage where we watched a French man show off quantum levitation and make frozen yogurt.


(Truly, liquid nitrogen is a science demonstrator's best friend.)

Probably the highlight for me was the first web server, complete with 'DO NOT TURN OFF' sticker.

classic Tim.

(The Web - which unless you're doing something unauthorised with my blog backend - is the type of internet you're looking at right now. It was invented at CERN by a bloke called Tim as a way to more easily share scientific information. With a little bit of help from eduroam, I logged into the network that hosted the first website and sent some email and generally geeked out a little bit.

Also I may have bought another t-shirt. Oops.

They run tours where you get to go inside the facilities, but you have to book several months in advance, and we misses out by a few minutes when we tried. I wasn't going to bother coming, but everyone else declared they were going to Zurich or chilling by the lake or hiking or generally doing their own thing, and hey - if you're a physics fan in Switzerland, you don't spend the day looking at lakes and cuckoo clocks, you know? And I reckon, of the whole trip, it's easily one of the best decisions I've made.

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