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We went to visit CERN (Organisation européenne pour la Recherche nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, at Meyrin, just outside Geneva. It is about 40 minutes drive from us.

Our visit was unplanned and the limited daily guided tour was fully booked weeks in advance.  So we just saw two exhibitions, one in the reception building (#33) and another in a dome-shaped exhibition hall across the street.


CERN was founded in 1954 and has currently 21 member states. It is the biggest particle physics laboratory in the world and sits astride the French-Swiss border. Its web site (click here) is very informative and educational. I love its logo as it does graphically depict CERN’s main equipment.


The acronym CERN came from Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire which remained even though the full name has been changed to Organisation européenne pour la Recherche nucléaire. Nobody liked “OERN”. There is a lot of information about CERN on wikipedia, click here.


While the origin of the universe is a very interesting and deep question, I think the biggest contribution of CERN to the world is what enables you to read this. The World Wide Web was invented at CERN in 1989 by British scientist Tim Berners-Lee.


CERN seeks answers to questions about the universe. What is it made of ? How did it come to be the way it is ? More specifically, it has been working on the search for antimatter and the Higgs boson.

This is the equation of the Standard model which attempts to explain EVERYTHING.

CERN’s experiments are designed to prove/disprove some of the predictions of the Standard model.

Screen Shot 2014-03-08 at 1.03.56 PM

CERN built the world’s most powerful particle accelerator – the 27 km Large Hadron Collider (LHC), buried 50-150 m below ground.


Accelerators boost beams of particles (e.g., protons) to high energies in vacuum guided by superconducting magnets at -271ºC within the 27 km ring before the beams are made to collide with each other at near light speed. The picture below is only a mock-up of the accelerator.


Four huge detectors – ALICE, ATLAS, CMS and LHCb were built to observe and record the results of these collisions. At 46 m long, 25 m high and 25 m wide, the 7000-tonne ATLAS detector (see photo below) is the largest volume particle detector ever constructed. It sits in a cavern 100 m below ground.


CERN has invested 6 billion swiss francs covering the accelerator, computing and manpower. More than 10,000 scientists and engineers are contributing to the project. Below are pictures of the exhibition hall.


On 8 October 2013 the Nobel prize in physics was awarded jointly to François Englert and Peter Higgs “for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.”


As a former scientist (in biology), seeing all these big science projects, multinational teams and advanced infrastructures are very exciting.


To get a behind-the-scenes view, see the 2014 documentary about the discovery of the Higgs Boson at CERN – “Particle Fever”  – the New York Times review of the movie is here.

cern-11We will definitely return and do the full guided tour properly.


One Comment

  1. Thank you for sharing this.

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