Physicists in Awe at Cern Trip
From Sunday 2 July to Wednesday 5 July, Year 11 and Year 12 pupils headed to CERN, Geneva for a physics trip. Mr Clive Young, Physics teacher report on their trip:
We arrived at Geneva airport around midday on the Sunday and after a short bus journey, checked into the Hotel Centrale, just off the main high street in Geneva.. Our trip started with an acclimatizing boat journey along the whole length of Lake Geneva passing close to the 140m water fountain (jet d’eau); a chance to relax and take in the sites.
Monday morning, we were up bright and early for our visit to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. We checked in at reception passing many particle physicists on their way to work. One of the professors gave the introductory lecture with many interesting facts about the work at CERN and the development of the Standard Model (this is the theory of almost everything because as yet it doesn’t include gravity!). Particle physicists are surprisingly modest considering the recent breakthrough discovery of the Higgs boson at CERN. Our professor began by telling us that actually we don’t know very much and what we do know only constitutes 4% of the Universe. He continued by telling us that we don’t really understand how forces work but when two negative charges (i.e. electrons) repel they do so by exchanging a virtual photon. He explained that a vacuum isn’t really a vacuum and that particles appear and disappear at random. He then discussed the current theory of dark energy accelerating the expansion of the Universe and the impossibility of going back in time due to the 2nd Law of thermodynamics and entropy.
We were now clearly prepared for our tour, passing down Einstein Way we were taken by bus across the Ring into France to see the Compact Muon Solenoid detector (CMS). It’s actually not that compact being the size of a four storey building and set 100m below the surface. We donned our hard hats and descended to Level 1. We couldn’t go any further down due to high level of radiation present in the Ring. The technology is breathtaking; huge silicon panels, electromagnets, calorimeters all hooked up to bank of computers. After lunch in the CERN canteen we visited the two exhibitions for yet more input into the world of Particle Physics. At the end of the visit our four Year 11 boys were engrossed in conversations about Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and Quantum Entanglement!
On Tuesday we went to Chamonix and took the Montenvers train ride into the mountains to visit the ice caves in the glacier. This was perhaps an opportunity to allow all that high level physics input to settle into our brains and consolidate our understanding. On Wednesday morning we finished our trip with a visit to the United Nations Building. We looked around all the main Conference Rooms and had the opportunity to listen in to one conference that was discussing global trade agreements. It was particularly impressive to see the United Nations Human Rights Council’s new conference room with the ceiling designed by Miquel Barcelo. The multitude of coloured stalactites representing the “union of opposites”. This was a fitting end to our tour.
A few hours were spent in Geneva for some shopping and then we caught the evening flight home.
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