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Students at a workshop in CERN

Visiting the home of the world's largest physics experiment

After weeks of excited anticipation, 20 U6 Physics students entered Gatwick bound for Geneva, looking forward to the main event of visiting CERN, home of the world’s largest physics experiment the Large Hadron Collider (LHC)…  

After landing and a spot of sightseeing we were all treated to an excellent tour of the Geneva office of the United Nations. Highlighting how the UN works the students got to sit in the seats where many of the world’s treaties are thrashed out.  One of the most “memorable” parts of the trip was our evening meal in the cellar of the Edelweiss hotel, a full fondue meal whilst being serenaded by a Swiss folk band and Karaoke alpine horn playing. 

We spent the whole of Wednesday in the CERN complex visiting the first accelerator to be built on the site: the Synchro-cyclotron and an amazing underground visit to see the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) detector up close. We saw first-hand the staggering scale and complexity of the experiments being carried out. At over 20m long and more than 15m high, buried 100m underground we were able to watch as engineers worked on the heart of the detector which acts like a giant digital camera capable of taking 40 million ‘images’ per second. After lunch we enjoyed a VIP Q&A session with Pippa Wells (ATLAS Detector Project Leader) who answered the many questions our students had about the Physics of CERN and careers in top level research. 

Our final day started back at CERN for a workshop where our students created their own particle detectors.  The “cloud chambers” allowed the students to see cosmic rays and background alpha radiation emitted from naturally occurring Radon gas. This practical experience demonstrating the basis of all particle detectors was not to be missed.

The final stop before heading home was the Patek Phillipe Museum tour where the students attentively watched clockwork automata of unbelievable complexity.
Sitting in the Departures lounge of Geneva airport there was unanimous agreement that it had plainly been an enjoyable packed 3 days.