The European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) is holding open days for the general public on the 28-29th September 2013 in Geneva near the French/Swiss border. Here are 10 reasons why you should go.
- Get the VIP treatment while you can
CERN is home to the LHC, the Large Hadron Collider, designed to collide particles (a special type called hadrons) at extremely high energies. To do this safely, and because the collider is 27km in diameter, the collisions happen underground. In spring 2013, the LHC shut down for 20 months in order to upgrade its equipment. This maintenance means the public can go underground to visit the experiments, which are otherwise closed except to VIPs. This is the last time you will be able to visit the underground facilities until the next upgrade planned for 2018 … unless you are a VIP.
- Go underground where the Higgs was first detected
The Higgs particle is central to our understanding of not only particle physics but also of the Universe in general. It explains how particles can have mass, and is even useful to understand some things in the very early Universe after the Big Bang. Its discovery in March 2013 is Nobel Prize material so you should grab the chance to visit the two underground experiments where it all happened: the ATLAS experiment and the CMS experiment both 80m and 100m underground respectively.
- See the off switch of the LHC
The open days at CERN give you access to the CERN Control Centre, where engineers operate and monitor the LHC - the largest particle collider in the world - day and night. In case of a problem, a technician might need to descend into the accelerator. To make sure the LHC is truly switched off when this happens (the contrary could be fatal to anyone venturing down there), the LHC has a physical key that if removed, switches the LHC off.
- Photograph the mural by artist Josef Kristofoletti
American artist Josef Kristofoletti fell in love with the ATLAS experiment and embarked on a project with CERN to paint a mural of the 80m-underground experiment on the outside walls of its control centre. It is possible to get a glimpse of it when outside the ATLAS gates, but with the open days you will have an unobstructed view to take a stunning picture of the 3-storey high mural.
- Press the (fake) emergency button at the ATLAS control centre
Those in charge of the ATLAS experiment’s visitor centre were kind enough to cater to everyone’s intrinsic desire to press an emergency button at a large nuclear facility and watch a red alarm light swirl round and round. The alarm is fake, so press as many times as desired.
- Visit the birthplace of the World-Wide Web
When you use the Internet on a daily basis, it is inspiring to remember that the world-wide web is only 24 years old. It all started at CERN in 1989 where a group of scientists wanted to create a useful way to share documents between scientists in different countries. The original NeXT computer, which was used as the first server, is exhibited at the Microcosm exhibit at CERN.
- Learn about the quark-gluon plasma with ALICE
It is thought that just after the Big Bang, the Universe was so hot that atoms and particles as we know them on Earth could not exist. Instead, there existed a primordial soup composed of quarks (usually confined in particles like protons) and special particles called gluons. The ALICE experiment reproduces the energies necessary to re-create this soup or “quark-gluon plasma” and study the early conditions of our Universe. The underground visit of the ALICE experiment also includes a visit of the LHC tunnel.
- Relax in one of the futurist chairs at the Globe
The landmark Globe, accessible from down-town Geneva by tram, hosts futurist (albeit uncomfortable) chairs which guide you through the big questions of particle physics in four different languages.
- Enjoy your free ticket
All the visits and tours during the CERN open days are free, and the Geneva public transport company even provides free return tickets to the event.
- Quiz a particle physicist
Want to know more? During the CERN open days engineers and physicists will lead the tours of the facilities, and you will be able to ask them questions directly during the tour. What better way to get that question on particle physics answered?
Note: Tickets for underground visits require (free) tickets. A small amount of tickets are released daily - the next tickets to be made available will be on Thursday 12th September between 7-8am CEST and the last tickets will be released on 15th September. Thanks to the engineers and physicists at CERN who gave me a sneak preview.