CERN Trip - Sixth Form Physics
  • Enrichment
  • Science
  • Sixth Form

On the 18th of February, a group of 23 girls from the Sixth Form joined by Mr Brittain, Mrs Ellis and Mr Johnson, headed to Geneva for a three-day trip to learn more about Particle Physics and the organisation CERN. The group departed from Heathrow airport around 5 o’clock and arrived in Geneva around 8 o’clock in the evening local time.

In the evening, we arrived at our hotel and were given time to settle into our rooms before eating some hamburgers and apple pie for dinner. After this we were placed into four groups of about six girls: Bottom, Top, Strange and Charm; which were named after four of the six types of Quarks we can have. Our first task was to create badges for all of our team members in preparation for a little competition between us over the next few days. The winners of the first round were Top for their character badges which were all named and had different hats to differentiate their different personalities. The next round involved building towers out of a pack of cards.  The towers represented the instability of Atomic Nuclei.  The winners were Bottom with the tallest tower. This task involved us placing the cards at exactly the correct angles to ensure that the structures didn’t collapse once you added another card, however almost all the towers collapsed at some stage! The last task of the day involved a maths relay; each person in the team had to roll three die to get three numbers, with these numbers we had to generate a function to result in a number between one and ten. The first team to have every member in the group gain all the numbers from one to ten were the winners of the round. The evening got everyone engaged and excited for the next day where we would be finally visiting the main event: CERN!

The next morning, the group hopped on the number 14 tram to CERN. When we arrived at CERN we saw an 11m high, 15-tonne steel sculpture which included many inscriptions on it to pay homage to the many great discoveries in Physics through the ages. The sculpture is officially called "Wandering the Immeasurable", however Mr Brittain nicknamed it ‘the Quaver’ due to its giant ribbon shape! After clicking a few group pictures in front of the sculpture, we headed inside the Globe of Science and Innovation. Once we set foot into the building we entered a circular room with multiple spherical capsules scattered around. There were multiple interactive displays that we all played around with to learn more about our universe; we even saw a collection of the CERN radiation chips that we have been using at school to research the radiation of different food types. A couple of minutes before leaving the globe an amazing light display depicting the journey of the beginning of the universe began. Even though the narration was all in French we all thoroughly enjoyed the animations.  This generated an excitement to learn even more about the work CERN do in preparation for our tour after lunch. Before heading off to the famous CERN cafeteria we got given our CERN visitor cards and visited the gift shop. The LEH Physics Department now have two red CERN hard hats as a souvenir to mark such a good trip!

The next stop was the CERN cafeteria.  Needless to say we were all overwhelmed by the choice of food there, from traditional Swiss fondue to basic sandwiches. The food was absolutely delicious, however we all may have eaten a bit too much! After lunch we visited the exhibition about the accelerators held at CERN. We all had a bit of a play with the model accelerators to help us gain a deeper understanding about how the accelerators actually work and what they are constructed from. The exhibition also explained the technicalities of gaining, storing and analysing the vast amount of data produced. It was interesting to see how large both the team and the equipment needs to be to discover such small particles. We even saw the exact champagne bottle Professor Higgs drank from on the day that the Higgs-Boson particle was discovered – which is slightly disgusting to think about it now!

Our final thing to do at CERN was a guided tour around the site. At the beginning of the tour we were given a PowerPoint presentation from our guide Mark Tyrrell, who has been a researcher at CERN for over forty years. Mr Tyrrell was very enthusiastic and had a lot of experience that he was happy to share with us and was very willing to answer any questions we had. We then decided to take a group photo in front of a section of the original accelerator with our guide, and then moved onto the ATLAS installation. ATLAS is one of the main four experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The experiment tests the predictions of the Standard Model of Particle Physics and also helped discover the Higgs-Boson Particle in 2012. During our time in the ATLAS installation we watched a 3D presentation depicting the work that they do at ATLAS and how large the equipment for this experiment is, for this we had to wear special 3D glasses and headphones – we all looked rather silly! Next we we looked through the glass walls of the control room and had a talk on how the experiments are undertaken. The final stop on our CERN tour was the old cyclotron particle accelerator that had been used in the early days at CERN (picture attached to the right). This piece of equipment was located in a special chamber with enormously thick doors and walls. A video presentation was projected onto one wall, that showed how the CERN site had been built on local farmland. The presentation continued with computer controlled video projections that brought the old equipment to life, so that we could see how it had been used in the past. Our time at CERN had unfortunately come to an end, however we all came away from that day with a greater understanding and interest into the topics discussed. In the evening we travelled into the city centre to visit the famous Lake Geneva and to look around the city.  We also looked for places we might want to visit tomorrow before we headed back home.

The next day the group went to the History of Science Museum which was located right next to Lake Geneva.  The famous Jet d’Eau had been turned on since we were last at the lake and was now quite a sight as it sprayed a column of water 140 meters up into the clear blue Swiss sky.   We played with some of the equipment the museum had on display in the building and the grounds. It was all very hands-on. Outside there were two dishes about 100m apart that could carry whispers from one dish to the other simply by focusing the sound waves. Inside the museum, there were levers, pulleys and cogs that showed how different mechanisms could be useful. We all had a lot of fun playing around with this equipment and understanding how these would be helpful.   There were also old pieces of equipment that had been used to keep time, measure pressure and model the Earth’s magnetic field. It was interesting to see how beautifully designed these older pieces of instruments had been and it was also amazing to see how accurately they could measure quantities.

After exploring the museum, we were given some free time to look around the town before we met up again with the group to have a look around St Pierre Cathedral. This beautiful building is over 850 years old and is linked with the protestant reformation that swept across Europe in the 16th century. The cathedral contained a beautifully painted ceiling and an underground archaeological exhibition. Some of us also climbed 157 steps up two very tall towers, at the top we were able to see a panoramic view of the whole of Geneva! After doing a bit of sightseeing we collected our bags from the hotel and began our journey back home. We were all very sad to be leaving Geneva, however we had all learnt so much and had such a fun experience!

Before we embarked on the trip, Mr Brittain suggested we all downloaded the Timewarp App by Jim Al-Khalili. The app shows how the rate at which we age is affected by gravitational variations in different countries and the speed at which we move. On average we discovered we aged more by 29.42 nanoseconds due to the effect of gravity; however, we also simultaneously aged less by 388.6 picoseconds due to our speed. Both the gravitational variations and our relative speed are both examples of the theories of special and general relativity in use. Therefore, we had a net age gain of 38.09 nanoseconds during the trip, due to a combination of all these factors.

I truly feel that the CERN trip has opened my eyes to the amazing work they do there and has got me interested to read more around this in preparation for the year two A-level course but mostly just for fun! The trip was such a valuable experience, we all learnt so much and had a tonne of fun while doing so. It was great to learn more about the subject we all love but also to see some of the beautiful attractions around Geneva, I would definitely recommend this trip to anyone and everyone really!

By Aria (LVIE) - CERN Chronicler

  • LEH Sixth Form