Student trip to CERN proves chaotic but enjoyable

The IOP University Student Network organises an annual trip to CERN. Three organisers hosting 21 students in Geneva – what’s the worst that could happen?

The first evening began with a degree of mayhem. The majority of the students attending the event arrived at different times, without mention of travel delays and the need to feed everyone! Both organisers were stretched between the hostel and a local pub, but successfully brought everyone together to eat in the same place.

Day one began with a comfortable morning of breakfast and preparing to leave, and there were PhD students awaiting us at 11.30am. With a swift use of Genevan public transport on the tram, we got to CERN with ease. With four PhD students at our disposal, everyone involved had ample opportunity to discuss any topic they liked, stretching from steps into PhDs, links to CERN, the local culture and the current work going on there.

We were taken around the Globe Museum first – an impressive structure that stands at the entrance to CERN’s reception. From there we were taken to the plaque to demonstrate where the web was born – initially unimpressive, but after reading it brought a true sense of novelty to the hallway and office.

The next stage of the visit took place in the cafeteria, followed by a visit to the Microcosm Museum. Historic experiments were demonstrated outdoors, showing off bubble chambers that earned Nobel prizes, cloud chamber experiments held indoors and a variety of intricate LHC electrical parts.

The late afternoon/early evening was left free for everyone to explore the city and to make their way to a Lebanese restaurant for dinner.

Day two began with an official tour with Professor Alexandre Zabi. Students were treated to a talk on the history of CERN, the world-renowned reasons for its fame, the physics behind the major discoveries, and what experiments are currently in progress. This was followed by a question-and-answer session and a short trip to the main control centre.

A second talk covered the bits of tech and history that was just in front of Zabi, held within glass casings. All of a sudden, the presentation screen went clear and we were all sat directly in front of the famous control centre. With physicists and engineers alike, tapping away on their keyboards, bottles of champagne lined the walls and everyone stood and stared in awe.

The next step of the official visit took place at the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) detector. Unfortunately,  we couldn’t enter the experimental area since the experiment was running, but to demonstrate the scale of the magnetic field used the professor held up a chain of paperclips, which were bending towards CMS – a truly fascinating pocket-sized experiment!

For day three, our destination was the United Nations. Everybody involved was taking pictures of the building, artwork, halls and conference rooms. One tour guide showed us around the multiple rooms, which were beautifully well designed. In between each room there were pieces of work from across the world, from China to Brazil. After an hour, sadly the tour was ended – in the gift shop, where, proudly, a Scottish student found a can of Irn-Bru!

At midday, the organisers gave their final words, following which people gradually left the hostel for their respective flights, bringing an end to a successful and enjoyable trip.

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Ian Carriegas

Ian is an undergraduate physics student at Newcastle University and a member of the IOP University Student Network committee

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