Few people ever have the pleasure of seeing the largest particle physics laboratory in the entire world with their own eyes, but I’m happy to say that I’m now one of those lucky people. CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, with its thousands of dedicated staff members and miles upon miles of gigantic circular particle accelerators running underneath the surface of Geneva, Switzerland, is undeniably a scientific wonder of the world. Visiting it in person felt like peeking into a huge, mystical corner of the particle physics community, and I absolutely loved it.
Our tour guide was a passionate young scientist who explained CERN in an eloquently simple way, making it easy for us all to understand at least the basic idea of how the whole thing works. It was exhilarating to be in the same room as giant machines that have played such a huge role in the advancement of science and technology. We weren’t able to visit the Large Hadron Collider due to the radiation it was emitting, but knowing that we were so close to it was thrilling enough in itself. And even without having the privilege of descending to the famous Collider, it was fascinating to see the other equipment that is used in the facility.
One of the most interesting parts of this visit, though, was getting to see the first particle collider ever created, which was introduced to us with a flashy high-tech video. The history behind CERN and the exciting evolution of particle physics was effectively and concisely explained at the same time. It really brought to life the rich background of the laboratory, and of the entire field of particle physics, in an engaging and thought-provoking way.
Not only was this visit a chance to see a famous laboratory with famous equipment, it was also highly scientifically educational. Because our tour guide was so good at talking to us on our level, I feel like I gained a nice, basic understanding of how particle physics works. I’m still not quite on the level of a professional scientist (close, though, of course), but I do know at least a smidge more about this scientific field and the history of it than I did before having the chance to visit the glory that is CERN.
By: Molly Kaup, 2015 Forum-Nexus alumna