CERN is the European Organization for Nuclear Research based in Geneva, Switzerland. It is famous for the particle accelerator, or “atom smasher.” By speeding up tiny particles of matter such as protons until they near the speed of light, and then letting those particles collide, scientists at CERN try to recreate the conditions under which the Big Bang happened and our universe was born.
You can visit the Microcosm Museum at CERN to see a model of the Large Hadron Collider (that’s the technical name for the particle accelerator) and also several other exhibits that explain the types of particles CERN researches and why their discoveries are important to science.
My family visited CERN as part of our Grand Tour of Europe this summer. We got lost on the way there, but I’m blaming that on our GPS system. I recommend finding it on a paper map first, to avoid a GPS mishap like ours.
When we got there, the museum was a lot smaller than I had anticipated. Predictably, the coolest displays were of the LHC. There is even a pretend LHC tunnel that you can walk through, as if you were a CERN worker, smashing atoms and such. There was a promising exhibit about cosmic rays, but I think it was malfunctioning when I looked, because I couldn’t see any rays, cosmic or otherwise. I liked being able to walk around the museum and read the many pamphlets about CERN’s various discoveries and the machines that made them.
The most educational part of my visit to CERN was watching a video on the construction of the LHC. The accelerator is the shape of a large circle, and it is housed underground, passing through the border of France and Switzerland. It took five years to dig the tunnel and caverns to fit the LHC. The video had film of the original construction site and showed how much work went into the project.
There is also a second, newer section of the museum, which can be found across the street, but it was more about oohs and ahs than actual educational material. I liked the first section better.
Bottom line: CERN has a really cool past, present, and future, and you will appreciate learning about their many discoveries and breakthroughs in subatomic science. It’s a small, unpretentious setup, but at least the words are in English and the model LHCs are definitely worth a visit. If you’re ever in Geneva, plan to spend 30-60 minutes just looking around, and you’ll come out a little smarter than before.
For more information about the LHC and CERN’s scientific mission, visit www.cern.ch!