Afternoon from Switzerland…

(Sunny day at CERN)

We visited Switzerland yesterday afternoon, as you do. We were there for the science. You may have heard of Conseil Europeén pour la Recherche de Nucléaire?(Me neither.) CERN, for short was set up after the Second World War to create a place in Europe where scientists could be scientists and share their work with this new postwar world. During the war a lot of scientists left Europe to work in the United States. People like Robert Oppenheimer, who invented the atomic bomb. Albert Einstein moved before the war and became an American citizen in 1940.

(We booked spaces on the free tour)

More recently you may have heard of CERN because of the Large Hadron Collider? No? Okay… if you had I could just bypass an explanation of it… are you sure you haven’t heard of it? If you’re sure I’ll give it a go but don’t ask any questions, I don’t know the answers. The Large Hadron Collider, LHC for short, is a device thought up by some people from CERN to work out what happened at the beginnings of the world. So far so good. Everything started off 13.8 billion years ago with the Big Bang. That’s the theory and scientists love theories but the theories bring up lots of questions and the only way to answer those questions is to create experiments. CERN is a place where scientists can perform experiments.

(Here’s our tour guide in front of lots of information)

Scientists have to be incredibly patient people because experiments take a long time, they often don’t work and then they have to keep tweaking things and re-experimenting. What’s more, they have to create devices or machines for their experiments. The people at CERN have been creating theses machines since 1949. We saw one that was created in the 1950’s called the Synchro-Cyclotron, the main part of it was bigger than Ruby and was housed in a three story building.

(Inside the tube of the LHC)

Two of the scientists involved with the first Synchro-Cyclotron experiments are still working at CERN, Maria and Giuseppe Fidecaro. Not because they have to, they really, really like being around science and scientists.

(There’s a lovely article about them at

(All the information from experiments since 1949 is stored on tape. They are starting to move it on the cloud)

And that was just the beginning. The scientists kept designing bigger “machines ” as the experiments got more complicated or as they say, interesting. Which leads us to the LHC (remember, the Large Hedron Collider?). Now, if you thought the Synchro-Cyclotron was big, wait until you hear this… The LHC comprises a 27km long circular tunnel built underground with 4 experiment buildings attached. What’s more, it’s located just across the border in France! (Side note: there’s an open border between Switzerland and France at CERN… something similar could be useful to us if the exit goes ahead.)

(The location is surrounded by corn fields and snow capped mountains)

What does the Large Hedron Collider do? It makes teeny tiny particles move very, very fast and then bump into each other. And then it measures what happens next. We didn’t get to see the LHC – it’s closed down for an upgrade which will take two years! Can I refer you back to scientists having a lot of patience. But we did get kinda close… our tour guide, who was from South Africa, is a Phd student proving her own experiments at the LHC. I did not understand her experiments and you’ll just have to trust me they sounded impressive.

But… there is one thing that was invented at CERN, that you use every day. It was invented by Tim Berners-Lee, a computer scientist. He invented The World Wide Web here. What we all call (imprecisely as it happens, scientists are very precise…) the Internet! Without CERN you wouldn’t be able to read this… well yes, of course you could be spending your time more wisely practicing French or going for a long walk.

Thanks a lot, CERN, Mairead.

(By the way, just to let you know in case you were worried (I was..) I checked and even though nuclear is in their name, it’s not like nuclear power or war or weapons… it’s just to do with the nucleus of atoms.)

(There’s CERN)