Daron, Melanie, Stephen, Kassie, and Kenny

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

CERN!

Today we had the privilege of touring the world-famous CERN, or in French, 'Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire' (European Council for Nuclear Research, http://www.cern.ch/) ~ the largest international collaboration in the world. Visited by 70,000 people per year (and featured in Dan Brown's book Angels and Demons), this facility hosts a huge particle accelerator 100m underground: the Large Hadron Collider, a 27km tunnel where physicists recreate the Big Bang conditions by smashing protons together head-on at nearly the speed of light. The kids LOVED seeing it all... even the 30 minute lecture that was clearly meant for college physics majors!

 So these tubes (which are connected underground across the Franco-Swiss border) are home to both the COLDEST and HOTTEST places in the universe.  The tunnel temperature is -273C, and yet where the particles collide, it becomes the hottest place in the universe, exponentially hotter than the sun's surface. I mean, how do they know how to do that??
 A 3-D movies about the accelerator...
 Cool 'egg-chairs' like in the movie Men in Black!

 Back in 1990, CERN-employee Tim Berneers-Lee developed the world wide web as a means to be able to share information with other scientists without having to actually go to their locations! Here's the computer that was the first server for hosting the www. Wild!

Below is our guide for the tour: a retired 30-year physicist Mark Tyrrell, who actually lives right down the road from us in Crassier! Partway through the tour, Stephen asked him, "what does it feel like to be so smart, and have all that stuff crammed in your head?" He chuckled and humbly said that he is no genius, but it has been a privilege to work with brilliant people there over the years, and that infrequently, CERN has had its Einsteins (6 Nobel Prizes in Physics, among the half of the world’s particle physicists who come to CERN for their research... representing 608 universities and 113 nationalities). Pretty cool. Here, Mr. Tyrrell is showing us this building mural ~ a life-size representation of the accelerator under our feet ~ the most complicated apparatus science has ever seen.

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Inside this cool big ball (reminiscent of the Hughes Aircraft spheres) is a visitor center planetarium.

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Looking at this sweet 80-year-oldish man, you wouldn't guess that he's a sharp, retired CERN physicist. When he asked us what language we'd like our tour in, I said - how many do you speak? He said - "oh, only three. You know the old joke: if you speak 3 languages, you're from Europe. If you speak 2, you're from the Far East. Only 1, you're from..."  and I finished his sentence with, of course, America. We had a good laugh, and I told him we're working on our 2nd language... he was proud. 8-)
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My favorite quote from the tour was "CERN scientists love when they discover things they know nothing about, because it means they really don't understand anything, and that usually preceeds a great discovery!" They all strike me as brilliant, yet humble geniuses. They also said "reality is closer to science fiction than the real world." Hats off to you, Dad, for reading all those sci-fi books when we were growing up! You were really just reading history books from the future!
And thank you Aunt Jenny for making us our new winter hats! We love them!

Here's Kassie yesterday, off to her school ice-skating field trip ~ she loved it!

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