4th October 16
The Science Department organised a once in a lifetime trip for Year 10 & 11 students to CERN, where physicists and engineers from 22 member states are probing the mysteries of the universe. Students visited the main experimental facility near Geneva on the Franco-Swiss border, which is home to the Hadron Collider, ALICE, ALPHA and other leading particle accelerator and detector research projects. They also explored the nearby Technorama Swiss Science Centre, a museum featuring over 500 science exhibits and experiment stations.
You can see pictures of the trip in the CERN Trip Photogallery.
Year 10 student and CERN trip participant Evie H reports on the excursion in the article below.
Year 10 Trip to CERN
By Evie H, Year 10
On the Year 10 trip to Switzerland with Science teachers Jo, Peter and Conrad, we visited Technorama and CERN.
You may have heard of CERN, which stands for Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire or in other words The European Organisation for Nuclear Research. It is home to the largest, most complex and most expensive scientific instruments designed for exploring the fundamental laws of nature and physics. The site is massive, lying half in Switzerland and half in France. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) alone takes up 17 kilometres with its colossal ring of magnets.
The CERN part of the trip was the main reason we organised the excursion in the first place, and it was brilliant. CERN is the best place to go to explore the furthest reaches of physics and become inspired by the game changing science going on there. I can wholeheartedly say that it was. We were taken on a tour by deeply knowledgeable and passionate guides, who delivered a talk on what CERN was investigating (along with theories on antimatter), a tour of the unused equipment for the LHC, and a presentation on the founders of CERN, and their first particle accelerator.
The opening talk informed us about what CERN was trying to recreate using the LHC and why. In summary, CERN is attempting to imitate the big bang by colliding protons together at just under the speed of light to coax the Higgs boson into existence. By measuring the collisions, physicists can determine whether the Higgs appeared or not. If it did, it would validate the theory of the Higgs field, and explain why everything that has ever existed has mass. This section of the presentation scratched the surface of quantum mechanics, and increased my knowledge of subatomic particles above and beyond the standard GCSE Physics level of understanding. The mind boggling science did not, however, stop there. Our guide delved further into theories on antimatter and how, perhaps, there could be an entire mirror-like oppositely charged universe out in space somewhere that we aren’t aware of. I found this part of the trip fascinating, as it opened my mind to the vast, extraordinary things that CERN is investigating and that physics can define.
We then continued on to a warehouse of CERN’s unused machinery for the LHC, and were given an intricately detailed description of how each piece functioned and interacted with the beam of protons used for collisions. We learned that the LHC works because of superconducting magnets that accelerate and direct the streams of protons to just shy of the speed of light. We also discovered that it has to be cooled to below the temperature of outer space with liquid helium. This section of the trip developed my knowledge of magnetic fields and how crucial they are for the LHC to function.
After this, we were shown an incredible projected display on CERN’s first proton accelerator the Synchrocyclotron, and the founders of CERN. It was about how CERN was created, who by and why, and how the first accelerator worked. The presentation was in a darkened room and projectors filled the walls with light and animated information about the beginnings of CERN as an organisation and the making of the first accelerator. We got to see the Synchrocyclotron in the flesh, as it took up half of the room we were in as the presentation played. It was interesting to find out about the people behind CERN and the gargantuan first collider that started this entire organisation on the world altering course that it has taken since 1954.
My favourite part of the trip was the initial presentation as part of which our expert guides explained theories on antimatter and challenged our perspective of the universe as we know it. I would say if you are curious about where we stand, interested in physics, fascinated by the unknown, and wondering about what scientist are currently working on and changing in the world, go to CERN.
I learned so much from the trip. Not only did it deepen my knowledge of the syllabus, but I feel that it sparked my imagination and curiosity around physics and science as a whole, once more.
Thanks so much to Conrad, Peter and Jo for organising the trip. We thoroughly enjoyed it.
Thanks also to Evie H for reporting on the trip, and to the Science Department for organising it. Don’t forget to view the CERN Trip Photogallery!