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Physics trip to CERN 2012

Physics trip to CERN 2012


On Monday 16th July 21 students and two staff met at Bristol Temple Meads station for the first stage of our journey to Geneva. On arrival at the hostel we were given and promptly lost our room keys, and settled into our rooms. The first activity was a treasure hunt around Geneva, which involved around four hours of pleasant strolling around the city, discovering treasures all over the place, from the four giants of the Protestant Reformation in the old town to the Geneva flower clock and the golden onions of the Russian Orthodox Church.


The first activity on Tuesday was to negotiate the breakfast buffet, after which we took a tram up to the UN, the second largest of its headquarters in the world (only New York is bigger). We all went through airport style security and walked across the site (complete with resident peacocks) to meet our guide. He took us to the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room, decorated by famous artist Miquel Barcelò, the Salle des Pas Perdus, from which you can see the monument commemorating the conquest of outer space, the Assembly Hall and the Council Chamber, where many important historical negotiations have taken place. We found out about the current activities of the United Nations and the history of the Palais des Nations, formerly the headquarters of the League of Nations. Outside we found the Broken Chair, symbolising opposition to land mines and cluster bombs acting as a reminder to politicians and others visiting Geneva. We then found some fountains, which were particularly useful for cooling off in the heat!, before our stunning boat ride on Lake Geneva.


Wednesday brought the long anticipated visit to CERN. We started off in the visitor centre, ’The Globe’, using the interactive displays to learn more about what goes on at CERN. From there we visited ‘Microcosm’ and learned more about the contributions that research at CERN has made to the wider world. We then sat among world class physicists as we ate our lunch in the CERN cafeteria (best lunch all week!). After lunch we met a contact of Miss Wales’ who took us on a behind the scenes tour including the office where he worked with Tim Berners Lee when he proposed the WWW in the late 1980s, with the original poster on the door. In the afternoon we had our official tour. This started with a video introduction to the history of CERN and a questions and answer session with an undergraduate researcher. Two of our students were quite satisfied to spot a mistake in the particle masses quoted on one of his slides! We then piled into the CERN minibus to take a ride to two of the experimental facilities. The first one was the newly built control centre where students were quick to spot the rows of champagne bottles (empty!) from celebrations of each milestone in the development of their research. The most awe-inspiring part of the trip was at the CMS facility. We were able to go underground (although not right into the tunnel as it was active and highly radioactive) and see the heart of the world’s largest physics experiment. A display of all the people involved (they looked normal and just like us!) in the CMS project hopefully inspired some of our students to be part of the CERN team in the future. In the evening we were treated to more of Mr Gregson’s games to keep us entertained.


At the CMS detector


After breakfast on Thursday morning (and a bit of a lie in following the excitement of Wednesday) we all walked along the bank of the lake to the History of Science Museum for a journey into the city’s scientific past. The museum displays an intriguing collection of scientific instruments from the 17th to the 19th century, including microscopes, telescopes, sundials, astrolabes and a vast collection of glass eyes! In the early afternoon we went off in small groups to do our souvenir shopping, or even to take a dip in the lake, whose water has just melted and run off a mountain and so was still pretty cold! In the evening we went to Hotel Eidelweiss for a traditional Swiss meal. Most of us had fondue of some sort, accompanied by a local alpine horn player and yodeller! Back at the hostel we gave prizes and gifts for people achievements and contributions, Miss Wales receiving a ‘real’ Higgs Boson from the whole group as a thank you for organising everything. We departed early the next morning, retracing our steps to Geneva airport and back to Bristol, where after much frantic phoning, everyone was met and taken off home to continue their summer.


Many thanks to all who came and made the trip so enjoyable.