Wilson's School

Sixth Form Physics Trip to CERN

by Ramon Nartallo-Kaluarachichi

We were ready to depart to Geneva, Switzerland to visit one of the most famous monuments to science and technology in the world - CERN and the LHC. A short flight later, we touched down in beautiful Switzerland and took the train to Geneva. So mesmerized were the staff and students by Switzerland's beauty, that we missed the station and had to catch another train. Finally in Geneva, we were shocked by the beauty of the lake (and the price of the McDonalds). After exploring the city, we headed to a Neapolitan kitchen for an Italian (not Swiss!) dinner.

The next day, we caught the tram to CERN (a terminus so we couldn't miss it!). When we entered the exhibit, we were teleported to the beginning of time, moments after the Big Bang. All that thinking made us truly famished so we took a well needed lunch in the CERN canteen. A hub of activity and chatter, the CERN canteen was a mecca for scientists and an inspiring example of people from all countries, fields and walks of life brought together by the pursuit of knowledge. It was here, in the canteen, that I bumped into a personal hero of mine, Fields' Medalist and mathematical genius, Cedric Villani. Nervous, but by no means about to give up this opportunity, I introduced myself as a fan and as a student. This was not strictly true, but it sounded far more professional than 'tourist'. This is just an example of the calibre of scientists working at CERN. After lunch, we had a brief, but interesting, lesson on particle physics and then, we split into groups to see some of the smaller particle accelerators. When we saw the large iron squares surrounded by powerful magnets, it was hard to imagine a single proton or antiproton whizzing around inside, but thankfully, there were a few knowledgeable scientists guiding us around to explain the science behind these machines. After this we visited the CERN computing servers - whilst this may seem mundane, it was anything but! It was here that we saw the first server used by Tim Berners Lee when he invented the internet and we were astonished by the sheer scale of the computing floor. Another presentation explained the need for this computing power - to take billions of snapshots of the particle collisions. CERN has produced 1% of all human data ever recorded in only 20 years?

We returned to Geneva inspired and ready to join the legions of scientists, engineers and technicians working at CERN and be part of the history they were making there. For dinner it was a traditional Swiss fondue. I was expecting cheese, so you can imagine my surprise when we were served a plate of raw meat. When the waitress brought out the vats of boiling oil I understood the situation - I was expected to cook it myself. After losing a few 'practice pieces' to the pan, we were happily enjoying this Swiss custom. But what topped the restaurant for me was the music - for it was at this traditional Swiss restaurant that we heard one of the most multi-talented musicians I have ever come across. While his friend played the accordion, he serenaded us with all manner of instruments; from spoons, a bowl, to my personal favourite - a saw (played with a violin bow, of course).

By the time we arrived at the United Nations building the next day, we were already acquainted with the depth and colour of Swiss culture, but the UN building was something else entirely. Filled with beautiful artifacts donated by countries all over the world, it was truly a monument to the culture of the world we live in. We even saw great halls were Angelina Jolie had spoken just weeks before or where the Syrian peace talks were taking place. Most marvelous of all was the ceiling by Miguel Barcelo in the Human Rights Council Chamber This concluded our visit, so inspired and with a new passion for science and Swiss food, we returned to Wilson's on Wednesday - hoping one day to make our marks on science.
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