Day 5 — CERN Globe

We started the day by walking briskly to the CLIC facilities, where CERN scientists are prototyping a linear accelerator. All the other accelerators here, such as the LHC, are circular. A linear accelerator, on the other hand, would be more efficient because it wouldn’t waste particle’s energy by forcing them to turn. Researcher Frank Tecker talked to us about CLIC and showed us a prototype of the accelerator that filled a basement the size of two tennis courts. Taylor, a student in our group from Texas, always carries a radiation detector with him. Much to his delight, his detector went crazy in a few areas of this building. Getting to know the other 11 students on the trip has been a great part of this experience.


CLIC linear accelerator in the basement at CERN

After touring CLIC, we met with an antimatter expert, Michael Doser. He impressed us all with his engaging and articulate explanation of the research under his guidance. He also conveyed to us the idea of super symmetry, which is that every particle has a “symmetric” particle associated with it. For example, electrons have positrons, matter has antimatter, etc. Currently we know much more about matter than antimatter, but Michael is trying to change that by studying a very important property of antimatter: gravity’s effect on antimatter. His work may have applications in cancer treatment and medical imagery!

After lunch in the cafeteria, we quickly stopped in CERN’s souvenir shop, where we bought everything from t-shirts with math equations, to rain jackets with the CERN logo and squishy pens.

Finally, we visited CERN’s iconic Globe, where we took a group picture sitting atop a tall blue sign. This “sign” was actually one of the magnets from the LHC; today there are 1200 such magnets functioning on the accelerator. Wolfgang had to lift us short ones up onto the sign.

Sitting atop an unused LHC magnet outside the CERN Globe

The CERN Globe


We were the first people to see the exhibit inside the Globe! It officially opens tonight, when a group of CERN leaders will meet there for a conference. The exhibit was fantastic! It cost 2 million francs and was sponsored by Rolex. The exhibit was so well designed it was easy to learn without trying. There were small artifacts and interesting facts in curious cases that looked like eyeballs. There were also posh chairs that looked (and were) so comfortable you couldn’t resist sitting in them. Each chair even played about a two minutes audio clip about an aspect of CERN! Also in the exhibit were large circular touch screen-tables displaying interactive maps and tutorials. Better still, every 30 minutes or so an epic movie played using all the walls in this one-room exhibit as the movie screen. It was the ultimate movie experience!

CERN exhibit inside the Globe; inside each of the eye-ball shaped cases is an interesting fact. CERN exhibit inside the Globe; the whole room turned into a a movie screen for a short video on the Universe.

After viewing this fascinating exhibition, each of us followed a different CERN scientist for an hour and a half. On Monday, Wolfgang asked each of us what type of work we were most interested in, and assigned us to a scientist accordingly. I met with a mechanical engineer who did most of his work using 3D computer modeling software. He showed me a poster describing a part of the LHC his team designed. I was amazed at how much planning goes into just a few small pieces of such a huge system! He also showed me the machine shop at CERN. I’ve never seen a machine shop so clean; there was hardly any dust on the floor. Must be a Swiss thing… They had a really neat machine about the size of a compact car that milled objects with extreme precision.

After saying goodbye to our CERN scientists, we took a bus to Veyrier, at the base of Mt. Saleve. From here, we rode a cable car to a restaurant atop the mountain. I couldn’t believe Wolfgang said he biked up this mountain! The views were gorgeous. We could see Lake Geneva and CERN.

Ascending Mt. Saleve

Top of railway, as seen from restaurant balcony. Note: this isn't the top of the mountain! Wolfgang led us on a hike closer to the peak.

View of Geneva from restaurant atop Mt. Saleve (CERN is in the upper left)

Before dinner, Wolfgang led us on a hike further up the mountain, which was quite refreshing. We made it to a grassy landing near the very top, at which point it started raining (it was drizzling when we started). Luckily, I bought a rain jacket at the CERN gift shop! Needless to say, we were exhausted and hungry by the time we made it back to the restaurant.

We had a delicious meal! It was perhaps the best of the many great meals we’ve had this week. The main course was fish caught in Lake Geneva topped with a foamy vegetable-based sauce, some dill, and veggies on the side. From the large windows in the restaurant, we looked down on Lake Geneva and CERN.

After dinner, we met in a room upstairs in the restaurant to see video clips about CERN. Wolfgang showed us several commercials, including one by Intel that highlighted CERN’s research. He also showed us pictures of his adorable grandchild. A few of us took this opportunity to read Wolfgang the poem we composed for him during last night’s dinner (see the Poems page in this blog). He got a little teary-eyed and asked to keep a copy, so I think he appreciated it. I cannot imagine a better host. It was a great way to end such a memorable week.

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