The Swiss city of Geneva is packed with a rich culture and history; it is also a well-known worldwide tourist destination counting several luxury boutiques and hotels close to the shores of its homonymous Lake Geneva. Next to hosting most European offices of the United Nations, Geneva is also a city of science. In the outskirts, you can find the Headquarters and the research teams working at CERN, the largest particle physics laboratory in the world!
After the difficult times of the 1940s, research in physics was almost nonexistent in Europe as it wasn’t a priority during the war. In 1949, the Nobel Prize laureate Louis de Broglie formulated the idea shared by several scientists to create a centralized European scientific laboratory for researchers in physics. That was also the time when the desire of a unified Europe first appeared: that led to the later creation of the European Union.
Also supported by UNESCO, the project of an international research center in physics was launched in 1952. Eleven countries signed the convention establishing the “Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire” (CERN), standing for the European Organization for Nuclear Research. This agreement was confirmed in 1954 by the signing of 12 countries. The Swiss city of Geneva was chosen to host this new research center because of its central location in Europe and the neutrality adopted by Switzerland during both World Wars. Due to the ample space needed for its infrastructures, CERN extended over a few kilometers away from the original place in 1965. It now includes several sites between Geneva and neighboring France.
The first particle accelerator of CERN was opened in 1957. It is a machine used to study particle physics. Particle physics may seem obscure to non-experts: in a nutshell, it examines the composition of our universe and its functioning. Research results in this field have several applications not only for the development of physics but also for technical domains and industries.
After several improvements, the last one to be built in 2008 was the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). It is the most powerful and largest particle accelerator in the world, thus driving thousands of scientists from all over the globe to CERN to run their research.
The LHC is a 27 km ring-shaped tunnel, approximately 1 km deep in the ground, crossing Switzerland and France. This massive machine helped to run several studies. You have probably heard in the news about the scientific advances regarding the Higgs boson, commonly referred to in the media as the ‘God’s particle.’
CERN is also famous for being the place where the web was born. CERN scientists Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau developed the ENQUIRE protocol, which scientists used to communicate and share information remotely. This project went public in 1993, representing the first step into the world wide web.
As a leading international research center in physics, CERN also has the mission of sharing knowledge outside the scientific community. Different sites are open to the public for free, such as the Globe of Science and Innovation and the Microcosm museum. There, you will learn a lot regarding research carried out at CERN and the history of the center. It is also suitable for children, unlike guided tours that are more applicable to adults and younger passionates.
Free guided tours represent the perfect way to get a better picture of what a particle physics laboratory is like. Beware: These visits are highly demanded, and it is not that easy to get access to them.
Every six years or so, CERN stops all the accelerators and other research tools for maintenance and improvements. During this break in the operations, CERN organizes open days, welcoming thousands of people to the different sites. It is a great and unique chance to see the particle accelerator from the inside, as it is obviously impossible when it is in service.
Even if you did not plan it in advance, be sure to head over there and visit the permanent exhibits. You will learn more about this unique laboratory and the particle physics research that is carried at CERN.
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