Cambridge Science Centre


A visit to CERN

Written on 2 Feb 2015 in Blog

I was part of a group of very excited people gathered together in Geneva last week for a special two-day visit to CERN. I had been invited to go along as the Cambridge Science Centre is part of the Explore Your Universe programme, which sees 20 science centres across the UK getting schools and public excited about science and technology - from particles to astrophysics.

Our mission in CERN? To see first-hand some of the amazing technology that scientists and engineers from all around the world have developed to help find the answers to some of the biggest questions known to man. And then to use this experience in our planning and developing of shows and workshops to inspire our audiences back home.

Over two days we toured some of the research facilities that sit above the 27-km-long Large Hadron Collider (LHC), including two of the four centres where the two hadron beams collide: First was ATLAS, where, overlooking the control room where the critical data were received and processed, we spoke with a researcher, Kate, who had been part of the team searching for, and ultimately finding, the elusive Higgs Boson particle. Next was the ‘rival’ CMS detector which, using entirely independent methods, led scientist to the same result; this time we descended 100 metres into the depths of the rock of the Geneva Basin so see the truly awesome 21-metre-long, 15-metre-wide solenoid magnet. See photos here.

But there was more to see yet! At the SMS18 cryogenic test facility we saw inside test superconducting magnets and were reminded that, thanks to carefully monitored streams of liquid helium, the LHC is the coldest place in the Universe, at just 1.9 degrees above absolute zero. It is these cold temperatures that allow the supermagnets to reach such a high field strength.

Our tour concluded with visits to the Computer Centre, to see how they handle the data overload (including being shown the computer used at CERN by Tim Berners Lee to invent the web) and to the very cool ‘S’Cool lab,’ which kicks off this year with an educational programme for 16-19-year-olds. The team showed us some of their very impressive demos and experiments, which they hope will inspire the next generation of CERN scientists - they certainly inspired us!.

I would like to thank Dr Penny Fiddler and her team at the ASDC and Steph Hills, the UK Communications and Innovation Officer working at the CERN Press office, for arranging this fantastic trip, which was generously funded by the STFC.