18th July 2018 – Recently twenty pupils from Years 9 & 10 were lucky enough to go on a trip to Geneva and to visit CERN.  Here Rose Dolan of 10S tells us all about the experience …

Geneva is a beautiful, clean city which was very easy to get around due to its free transport service. The Jet D’eau fountain was extremely impressive and I would highly recommend Geneva for a mountainous city break.

Located an easy tram journey away from Geneva is CERN, the home of The Large Hadron Collider and an international hub of scientific research, with 16,000 scientists visiting each year from all over the world.

We began our visit by attending a newly-refurbished exhibition called ‘Microcosm’. This exhibition was very comprehensive, and set a strong foundation for the further ideas we would later talk about. One of the most impressive parts of ‘Microcosm’ was a section where alpha particles and electrons were being passed through a liquid and leaving tracks in the form of bubbles; buttons could also be pressed so that only certain parts the particle’s traces were displayed.

After this, we received a talk from an Italian scientist who showed us a video and asked for our feedback on it as we were one of the first groups to see it. Once the video had finished we had about 45 minutes to ask as many questions as we wanted to and so simultaneously obey one of CERN’s two key rules, ‘ask as many questions as you like’ – the other being ‘take as many photos as you can’. The scientist had the interesting job of bridging CERN’s work and the medical field. He also informed us that he knew nothing about particle physics before joining CERN and that most of CERN’s workers are engineers, not physicists (they mostly visit from around the world). This talk was an inspiration to most of us.

We then arrived at the control room where we could see an experiment that was being conducted aboard The International Space Station! The live stream from The Space Station, the window that turned into a TV and the huge screen above a group of workers showing complex graphs, proved for no less than a futuristic, sci-fi like experience. The experiment being conducted was an investigation into cosmic rays (the rays that heat our atmosphere), as currently little is known about their origin and composition. We learnt that this experiment involves scientists from five continents, once again reflecting CERN’s international importance.

Finally, we were guided through a private exhibition. Here, we could see models of what was 100m beneath us, the Large Hadron Collider and viewed models of its sections. We learnt that the collider begins by stripping Hydrogen atoms off their electrons and since the final object was positively charged they could be moved by being pushed by a positive charge and pulled by a negative charge. Electromagnets then keep the proton beams on track. To create maximum performance and allow superconductivity within the electromagnets, liquid helium is used, keeping the collider at a cool 1.9 Kelvin (-271.250C). We were also taught that at each access point on the 25km loop, the right and left tube switched their proton beams where billions of particles form a cloud but only about 20 collide each time. The rest are analysed by sensitive detectors in the hope of finding a new particle.
CERN’s aim is to recreate the conditions trillionths of seconds after The Big Bang to give rise to further discoveries. Although they have not yet done this, their discoveries of particle W and Z and of The Higgs Boson, often referred to as ‘The God Particle’ (both Nobel Prize winning) show great promise for the future and fulfilment of their slogan, ‘accelerating science’.