A trip to CERN

31 July 2017

In the summer term, 31 Year 12 physics students from Alexandra Park School visited the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. The three-day residential trip included a lecture and tour of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) detector and an amazing opportunity to discuss and ask questions of physicists working at CERN.

During the trip, the students also had the opportunity to visit two museums at CERN giving an interactive guide and explanation of the history of CERN and how the particles are accelerated to almost the speed of light and then made to collide into each other releasing a host of sub atomic particles that lead to the famous discovery of the Higgs Boson in 2012!

Not only did the students have the opportunity to visit the World’s Greatest Experiment they were also fortunate enough to experience the delights of Swiss culture with a free music festival as well as cooling off in Lake Geneva. Tomasz and Clare share their experiences.

“Our trip to CERN started off with a lecture by a physicist from Bristol University. The talk went into depth on the way the Large Hadron Collider works, the particles involved, the discoveries made and the aims of the programme in the long term. The science involved was fairly advanced, but remained interesting and accessible. Following this, we were taken to the CMS - Compact Muon Solenoid, one of the four particle detectors situated around the LHC. There, we were split into groups and taken on a tour of certain parts of the building by a CERN physicist. This tour was very interesting; enlightening us on the complex role of the CMS in the detection of particles produced by collisions in the LHC, such as the Higgs-Boson. Our tour guide explained the process by which scientists decide which collisions are interesting, and should be saved to look at in greater detail. We were then taken down the 100m to the level of the actual detector. This was the most interesting aspect of the trip- there were many signs up with warnings of radioactivity and strong magnetic fields. Our tour guide showed us how a chain of metal paper clips would not hang straight down, but was curved, due to the magnetic field of the CMS around 30m away.

Then we were taken back to the main reception at CERN, where we were lucky enough to have lunch in the large canteen. There was a wide variety of food there, reflecting the many nationalities of the scientists who work there. Once we sat down in the canteen, it was fascinating to be amongst all of these scientists, and see them discussing their work. One of the main points I took away from this visit was the wide variety of skills and jobs required at CERN – not only physicists are required, but engineers, geologists, computer scientists, statisticians, mathematicians and many more. It was a fantastic place to see the huge number of jobs stemming from STEM subjects, and the immense impact global scientific collaboration can make.

Outside of CERN we also had many fun experiences, such as walking around Lake Geneva to the old town, walking down the pier in the evening and visiting the UN Headquarters just a tram ride away. One afternoon we went swimming in the lake, which was refreshing after a long morning in the Swiss sun. After a swim in the water, we played card games and even played a long game of volleyball in the water. This was fun and a great end to the day.
Clare Walsh


Not often would I genuinely call any experience ‘once-in-a-lifetime’, but the APS trip to CERN was truly unmissable. The 3 days we spent in the stunning country of Switzerland was packed with science, adventure and above all, fun. Not a single second from take-off to landing proved to be dull. The talks and tours were engaging, informative and exceedingly interesting; the walks through Geneva’s old town were culturally enriching, picturesque and wonderfully characteristic. As you approached CERN, you could feel a distinct aura of intelligence and wisdom from miles away, housing the world’s most famous experiment, a delightful museum showing the intricacies of the oldest supercollider, and an even more detailed microcosm (with a cloud chamber that you would not believe). Geneva is one of those extremely unique cities that you simply do not want to leave, and only after seeing CERN, the United Nations headquarters and the picturesque Lake Geneva (that you get the opportunity to swim in!) will you see just how right I am.
Tomasz Mistela
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