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The world's largest experiment

23 Jul 2012

A group from St Christopher's Church of England High School (part of the Ogden Hyndburn/Ribble Valley partnership) were on a visit to CERN on the day it was announced that a new particle consistent with the Higgs boson had been discovered. The particle has been the subject of a 45-year hunt to explain how matter attains its mass and it was a momentous day to be at CERN. A year 12 student shares their adventure in My trip to the World’s largest experiment...


St Christopher"In June this year, 10 pupils and 3 teachers flew to Geneva to visit CERN. Whilst there we: sailed on lake Geneva, enjoyed some live yodelling, and sampled some fine fondue. After a day in Geneva and enjoying the fine Swiss ice-cream we excitedly awoke on the Wednesday and travelled to CERN. Upon arrival we viewed the microcosm exhibition which was a condensed history of CERN coupled with some interactive displays and a brief history of the internet (which was invented at CERN). Our tour guide then arrived and we walked along Rue M Faraday and Rue A Becquerel to visit Lier.


Lier is an experiment designed to produce and study anti-hydrogen atoms by accelerating anti-protons and positrons together. Lier is an unusual particle accelerator, as each of its four magnets bend the beams of particles 90 degrees; opposed to the gradual bending of particle beams which used in the LHC, LEP, SPS and PS. After marvelling at Lier and its funky bending magnets we headed off to the LINAC 2 - a linear accelerator and the first in a long list which accelerate the protons before they enter the LHC. As part of the exhibition, the old control computers still remain situated adjacent to LINAC which gathered data from LINAC’s original experiments. The guide explained to us how the protons are sourced.


We returned to the CERN main site to have lunch. Upon hearing that the world’s leading Professor Higgsphysicists working on the ATLAS and CMS projects had announced at a press conference a 5 sigma discovery of a boson we flocked outside and waited for the scientists to appear, hoping to catch a word with some. We spoke to a physicist who worked on ATLAS who explained what the results that had just been announced actually meant, which was extremely interesting. THEN WE SAW THE BACK OF PETER HIGGS’ HEAD! [The photo on the right was taken by one of the students, who was fortunate to see Professor Higgs from the front!]


A new tour guide arrived and we walked through the sunshine towards the ATLAS project. It was fascinating to see live data from the ATLAS detector being displayed in the control room. Our guide explained to us exactly how ATLAS used a variety of calorimeters to detect the particles produced in proton-proton collisions. We then journeyed across the Swiss-French border to the site where the magnets are maintained and tested. We were told in detail how the magnets were designed and why this enables them to do their various roles within the LHC ring. We then arrived at CMS and went underground to the control rooms and computer farms. That was awe-inspiring as it highlighted the scale of the experiment and how much planning and elaborate engineering went into searching for the answers to the greatest mysteries in modern physics.


Then we had fondue, yodelled, played the alpine horn and went home!"