ACCELERATING SCIENCE

By Sixth Formers Nicholas Hobbs & Sebastian Hall

Last weekend Sixth Form Physicists travelled to the European Organization for Nuclear Research – CERN – in Geneva. The facility is one of the world’s largest and most respected centres for scientific research.

The trip started with a relaxing supper, lakeside walk and tour of the city. The following day we made our way by tram to CERN itself. One of the research physicists presented on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the largest particle accelerator and cryogenic system in the world, and one of the coldest places in the Universe! We learnt how physicists have been able to smash together protons at almost the speed of light, recreating the moments after the Big Bang! Some of us visited the LHC Control Centre to see the measuring instruments that are used to detect the particles given off; it was truly mind-blowing to see the complexity of the technology that was involved. Others went to the Astrophysics Research Centre, which works in cooperation with the International Space Station. There, we learnt about the detection of particles in space via the newly active AMS detector. We were amazed to see that over 148 billion detections have been found to date – and the number was rapidly increasing whilst we were there.

Next we went to the Cryogenic Magnet Testing Facility where we learnt about the different areas of the LHC, from the use of superconductors to the construction for the Collider itself. The amount of complexity and physical size was astonishing, it runs to 100 metres deep under the ground and has a circumference of 27 kilometres that spans the Franco-Swiss border. The sheer size and effort put into this magnificent feat of engineering is amazing. After this unforgettable experience we had lunch in the CERN canteen with some of the world’s leading particle physicists. We then had the opportunity to visit the permanent exhibitions of the CERN microcosm and Universe of Particles. The best part of this was the interactive Cloud Chamber that showed the different types of radioactive decay and their movement using iso-propyl alcohol to show vapour clouds condensing where the decay had been. This was really interesting to see in person rather than via online videos we had viewed in our A Level lessons.

The trip concluded with a competitive and fun game of bowling, and visits to the Natural History Museum and the History of Science Museum. It was a rewarding trip and one we recommend to all young physicists.