7th July 2018
Writing: Cameron Robey (Year 12)
Photography: Max O'Brien (Year 12)
Editing: George Corby (Year 12)
As physics gets more and more advanced, experiments must become bigger and bigger. Perhaps the largest of all of these is the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Recently, 40 students from Year 12 had the opportunity to travel to Geneva to visit this: one of the most successful, international physical research projects ever undertaken.
Despite being forecast thunder, when we touched down in Switzerland we were greeted with only warmth and sun. To counter this, we quickly travelled down to Lake Geneva so that we could get accustomed to the city from a different perspective. After the boat trip, we spent the rest of the day sightseeing - one particular highlight being the view from the top of the cathedral after climbing all the way up.
Apart from CERN itself, the other highly anticipated visit was to the United Nations headquarters in Geneva. Blown away by its scale, we saw a number of chambers where committees take place including being able to see into the Human Rights Council that was in action whilst we were there. On our tour we learned about the work that the United Nations does and in particular the focuses of the meetings that take place in Geneva, especially human rights and disarmament.
On display around the buildings were murals and donations to the United Nations from some of its member states alongside commemorative plaques remembering those that have lost their lives striving for world peace. One piece of artwork that stood out was the dome ceiling in one of the council chambers. Designed by Miquel Barcelo, it serves as a metaphor for the world: it is not possible to take it all in at once but can only be appreciated by focusing on one small section at a time.
The main reason for the visit was CERN, which is where we ventured for the first time that afternoon. Participating in a workshop which involved us making our own cloud chambers, we were able to experience the science that was being done below our feet first hand. Using dry ice and alcohol, we were able to observe high energy cosmic rays coming from outer space right in front of our eyes.
Our second visit to CERN involved a tour of some of the laboratories and the experiments going on. First, we visited a workshop where all of the magnets are built and tested for experiments and the collider. Large, powerful magnets are needed to deflect the particles travelling in the Large Hadron Collider as they move around the 27km circumference ring. In order to do this, they must be cooled down to just below 2 Kelvin (-271 degrees Celsius): only a few degrees above absolute zero.
We were also lucky enough to travel across the border into France to visit ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment). Here, lead ions are being collided to create a quark-gluon plasma similar to that of the conditions a fraction of a second after the big bang. By doing this, physicists are able to understand how the universe formed into what it is today. Although not the largest detector in size, it is the heaviest and most precise.
I would like to thank all of the physicists and engineers at CERN who showed us around and the Physics Team at school for organising the trip. A special thanks must go to Ms Binnion who led the trip.