CERN Excursion: Summary and photos

21st - 22nd of April

Monday 6th of June 2016

Posted by Honours Association

On an early Thursday morning, 21 students woke up to grab a plane departing from Schiphol. A bus took us from Delft to Den Haag HS after which we took the train to Schiphol. We arrived at Schiphol airport nicely on time and boarded the plane according to plan. Unfortunately as we were pushed back from the gate the pilot announced engine failure which had to be fixed and the plane was put to a halt. Forty tense minutes passed after it was announced that the problem was fixed and we could continue. Geneva airport happens to be quite near the main site of CERN and getting there from the airport was no problem at all as we arrived only five minutes late at the reception of building 39 where we were greeted by Herman ten Cate.

After having had lunch in the main restaurant we headed to the first of four sites we would visit: the low energy ion ring, one of the first stages protons go through before entering the bigger accelerator famously known as the large hadron collider or LHC. In this ring protons are accelerated to near light speed. The LHC, having a diameter of 8.5 km, consists of more than thousand track parts containing superconducting magnets for bending, squeezing and accelerating the beam. The protons that enter the LHC are obtained from a hydrogen canister. The second site we visited was the antiproton research facility where they are trying to produce and stabilize anti-hydrogen for use in subsequent experiments.

The third site we visited was the ATLAS control room. ATLAS is the most well-known, but not the only research group making use of the LHC. Ninety meters underground, protons are colliding, producing an elementary zoo of particles which are measured by different types of detectors. The amount of data that this experiment generates is huge. So huge in fact that CERN uses a worldwide computer grid to analyze and store collisions. The development of this grid was a stimulus for the development of the internet back in the days. After the antiproton facility we visited a historical synchrocyclotron used in the first days of the CERN facility. The machine was renovated and the accompanying presentation, audio and lights made it quite a theatrical experience.

The first foundations for the site that eventually would be called CERN were laid in the years following the Second World War. The atmosphere of the decennium is still resembled by the motto “science for peace” and the location conveniently chosen on the border of France and neutral country Switzerland. A quirky fact is also that the ring of the LHC is not drilled horizontally with respect to the earth surface but slightly at an angle as this made drilling through the subterranean rock more cost effective.

The day was finished with a walk to the hostel. The next morning it was of course necessary to investigate the temperature of the nearby Lake Geneva which was, as it seemed, very cold. We took the late afternoon flight back to Amsterdam and can look back on well spent days in Switzerland. We want to thank Herman ten Cate and the rest of our guides and other staff at CERN for their efforts. Also, thank you Carolien Bastiaanssen for the photos!