Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Arriving at CERN

First impressions

I think that the main thing that struck me about CERN is its apparent normality.  Walking around the site on a Sunday afternoon, above ground, CERN looks very like the light industrial estates that surround my home town.  Large non-descript buildings, empty roads and cul-de-sacs.
Industrial estate?
There are some hints to let you know that it isn’t just an industrial estate: the roads are named after famous physicists; the French-Swiss border passes, unmarked, across a roundabout; and there are a lot of compressed gas cylinders (often Helium) outside the buildings.   

Sounds familiar.

I'm standing in Switzerland, the trees are in France.

For party balloons or particle accelerators?

Another noticeable feature is the noise.  Even on a Sunday afternoon there is a constant hum in the air coming from some of the buildings.  It sounds very like the hum of an air conditioning unit.  In a country where almost everything is shut on a Sunday, the equipment at CERN keeps running.

Sitting in the restaurant (thankfully also open on a Sunday) snippets of conversation float through the air, different languages, different accents.  Mostly everyday topics, but every now and then physics appears.  

CERN Restaurant 1 - one of the most cosmopolitan places to eat anywhere.

Of course, the really interesting thing about CERN is not what happens above ground.  It is in the tunnel underground that makes CERN special.  And it is the experiments at CERN that I, and 51 teachers from the UK, are looking forward to finding out about.
The participants on the Feb 2014 CERN study trip