LHC, CERN, Switzerland, Geneva, large hadron collider, particle accelerator, particle physics, quantum mechanics, European Centre for Nuclear Research, Science, Europe, Travel

Visiting CERN; A Geologist’s attempt at particle physics and the Higgs Boson [Switzerland]

LHC, CERN, Switzerland, Geneva, large hadron collider, particle accelerator, particle physics, quantum mechanics, European Centre for Nuclear Research, Science, Europe, Travel, Standard Model, Instagram, Accelerating ScienceIntro: Alright, time to blog out of my comfort zone and go a little extra nerdy. Coming straight from the Spectacular Swiss Alps, my sister and I decided to make it a mission to go to Geneva whilst in Switzerland and visit CERN. CERN is the European Organization for Nuclear Research and home of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). This is 27km circular tunnel about 100m underground which functions as a particle accelerator.

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Map of CERN’s location with the purple ring representing the actual size of 27km LHC on the border of France and Switzerland.

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The Famous Lake Geneva at the Switzerland/France Border

In the LHC subatomic particles are smashed together at speeds close to the speed of light, and this recreates conditions that would have been present at the beginning of time, just after the Big Bang. They observe and record these collisions, which in turn leads to amazing scientific breakthroughs, from understanding fundamental building blocks of life to creating the internet!

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LHC Control Room at CERN, Switzerland

Now, I’m no particle physicist, but I have read and watched countless books and documents on the subject so I was very excited about the prospect of checking out the LHC and CERN in person.

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CERN Main Entrance at Geneva, Switzerland

Science-Spiel: From the very, VERY small, to the building blocks of all (Particle Physics)

So this is slightly different from my usual earth science related spheel. This time I’m going to dig into the world of particle physics and quantum mechanics, home of such topics like anti-matter, quarks, extra (possibly 9?) dimensions, Schrӧdinger’s cat, wormholes, fundamental forces, and Higgs Bosons – just to name a few. But I clearly can’t talk about it or else this post would be very long… so for more information check out http://cern.ch, and in the meantime I will highlight the 4 fundamental forces of the world and the newly discovered Higgs Boson.

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Mural of a collision within a particle detector on the exterior of the building hosting the ATLAS experiment.

Everything is made of matter particles (two basic types called quarks and leptons). Different forces act between the particles, specifically; there are four fundamental forces at work in the universeThe Gravitational Force, The Weak Force, The Electromagnetic Force, & The Strong Force.

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Four Fundamental Forces and Particles They Act Between

These forces work over different ranges and have different strengths. Both gravity (the weakest forces of all), the electromagnetic (many times stronger than gravity), and the strong force (strongest force of all) glue particles together into bigger structures, from tiny atoms to massive galaxies of stars. The weak force (not to be confused with its name, is actually the 2nd weakest forces…) changes particles and atoms from one type to another, such as the reactions that fuel the sun.

The unification of forces theory forms the basis of what is known as the Standard Model, and explains how these forces act on all the matter particles. Three fundamental forces result from the exchange of force carrier particles, which belong to a broader group called ‘bosons’.

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Missing Higgs boson from the Standard Model

But there was something missing…

This theory mathematically worked if these force-carrying particles have no mass, which cannot be true. Thus a particle dubbed the Higgs boson was hypothesize. This essential ingredient of the Standard Model, sometimes called the ‘God particle’, is the key to the origin of particle mass. But it was never found, that was, until July 4th 2012.

Both the ATLAS and CMS experiments found convincing evidence of a particle consistent with the Higgs boson. Therefore CERN may have found the final missing ingredient in the Standard Model of particle physics!

LHC, CERN, Switzerland, Geneva, large hadron collider, particle accelerator, particle physics, quantum mechanics, European Centre for Nuclear Research, Science, Europe, TravelOf course, this is just briefly touching on all the exciting things happening at CERN. By no means is the story over yet, there is still so much to be discovered and understood, from dark matter in the far reaches of the universe, to the unreachable subatomic world. Until then, we will just have to wait and stay tuned! (Source: CERN)

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A proton collision detected by the ATLAS experiment at CERN, containing a signature for the Higgs particle production (ATLAS EXPERIMENT – www.atlas.ch)

Why-You-Might- Recognized-It?: Black Holes and Revelations (Angels and Demons)

It would seem that any sort of sci-fi concept can be explained or dis-proven (given a bit of time) right here at CERN. From black holes to extra dimension/wormholes, to anti-matter, the possibility are endless! However, going past the concepts and to the actual facility of CERN, this massive science experiment itself was featured in a recent movie, Angels and Demons. This was Dan Brown’s sequel book to the Da Vinci Code and was turned into a movie in 2009, where the opening scenes were set here at CERN… something about anti-matter and using it as weapons of “mass destruction”, but that’s just in the movie, so I wouldn’t be worried about what they are making at CERN just yet 😉

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Image of one of the LHC’s particle detectors at CERN (not my own photo sadly, Source: CERN)

Final Thoughts:

Overall, pretty amazing experience/experiment! We didn’t get to go underground to see the actual accelerator, but all the displays and the tour above ground was very informative, and seeing the control panel and where ALICE is was a really neat experience and worth the trip to Geneva. Be sure to check out my sister’s video on our Switzerland travels: Base Jumping and Science. As for tours of CERN, they are free to the public, but try and book a couple months in advance as they do fill up. However, if you are lucky and show up in the morning they might be able to squeeze you in without a booking.

In my opinion, visiting CERN is a must for any traveler, whether you’re a sci-fi fan, or just interested about what the universe and ourselves are truly and fundamentally made of.

-Stephanie

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Nadine and I at the LHC Science Information Dome at CERN, Switzerland

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  8. Haha it’s always funny to me, as a person living right next to CERN, to see people visiting those places from, sometimes, far away. I drive by the Innovation Dome almost everyday to go to school, yet I’ve never been there…

    • No way, that’s funny, you should check it out one of these days! And I know what you mean, same thing kinda happens where I’m from (BC, Canada) as tourists and visitors are always amazed at the mountains and checking out these attractions that I take for granted…

  9. Such a nerdy way to spend some vacation time… I approve! lol. I tried to plan a trip to CERN but ended up not having as much time to travel as I hoped, so I will have to next time I’m in Europe! (my next time list is getting quite long!)

    • Haha, glad you approve! Hopefully you can make it over there next time you’re in Europe 🙂

      • I’m no physicist either, but you said all that with enough intelligence and confidence that I’ll take your word for it! 😛 That was very informative though, and very interesting 🙂

  10. I am so jealous. Someday, I need to head over to Switzerland and see CERN for myself. It’s a shame they didn’t let you go underground to see the LHC, though.

    • Yeah, it was too bad because that would have been pretty neat if we got to go underground, but I understand why they don’t want the public going down-and-up to the LHC on a daily basis (safely reasons, etc).

  11. Great post on CERN and particle physics! They are definitely doing some important scientific work there.

    • Thank you! I’m no particle physicist but I tried my best to grasp the basic concepts 🙂
      And yes they definitely are, I couldn’t agree more!