March 20, 2008 Next week (April 6, 2008), one of the most famous research institutions in history CERN will open its doors to the public, offering a unique chance to visit. The European Organization for Nuclear Research (commonly known as CERN) is situated in Geneva and will display its newest and largest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), before it goes into operation later this year. This scientific instrument, the largest and most complex in the world, is installed in a 27km tunnel, 100 metres underground.
CERN will open all access points around the ring for visits underground, to the tunnel and the experiment caverns. On the surface, a wide-ranging programme will be on offer, allowing people to learn about the physics for which this huge instrument is being installed, the technology underlying it, and applications in other fields.
In the LHC, particles such as protons or heavy ions will be accelerated to close to the speed of light in two tubes. At four intersection points the particles will collide at an energy never before reached in a particle accelerator to study new areas of physics that so far have not been accessible. Experiments at the LHC expect to be able to answer a number of fundamental questions, such as the origin of mass or the nature of the so-called “dark matter”. However, since the LHC will explore a new energy range, there will also be unexpected results, resulting in new questions and new physics.
On the Open Day, many visitors to CERN will be able to descend and see the LHC and its big experiments, ALICE, ATLAS, CMS and LHCb in place in their underground caverns. However, since access to the underground areas is limited due to the capacity of the elevators and safety concerns, a range of activities is also planned on the surface where visitors will be able to learn about particle physics and talk to CERN engineers and physicists.
A central theme apart from the LHC, its magnets and experiments, will be superconductivity, the principle on which the operation of the LHC is based. At the heart of the LHC magnets lie 7000 kilometres of superconducting cables, cooled to a temperature close to absolute zero, which are able to conduct electricity without resistance. Spectacular experiments, exhibitions and films will introduce the public to this exciting phenomenon, visitors will be able to meet physicists to “ask an expert” and there will be the chance for an encounter with two Nobel laureates who will give lectures about their prize-winning discoveries.
The fun and excitement of physics will be demonstrated in the Globe of Science and Innovation and physics shows taking place at various venues around the ring. Children will be able to meet up with the presenter of a popular French TV show on his tour through eight communes close to the LHC access points or take part in a “magical physics” show.