Welcome to CERN
Okay, so here we go. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a particle collider. Isn’t it humongous and awesome? Well, this isn’t even a big one. This one is called the Compact Muon Solenoid, and there’s another one here that’s twice as big.
First of all, the particle beam was off. That’s why we got to go down there. Our guide told us that the magnets that keep the beam of particles in place are so strong that the iron in your blood is attracted to them, so we only get to walk around when they’re off. Good, because I’d like to keep my blood just where it is, thankyouverymuch.
This thing was nutso. To give you some scale, the first picture was taken standing on a catwalk three stories above the ground with my arms above my head as far as they go (which, let’s be honest, isn’t all that far). You can see some stairs on the bottom right of the picture, so that should give you some idea of the cavern this machine sits in.
The amount of cables running through that building was absolutely mind-blowing. Rooms and rooms of cables were connected to this machine which ran up to the rooms and rooms of computers that store the data. This operation is astonishingly enormous.
Before we went down to the detector room, our guide took us to the staging garage above ground where the detector was built. It was then lowered in pieces down this huge tunnel that runs straight into the ground. One of the cool things the guide told us was that in order to move these enormous pieces to the shaft in the ground, they would use shipyard lifts to pick up the 2300 ton piece of machine just an inch or so, and then they used air cushions (what he referred to as “hovercraft technology” - WHAT?!?!) to hold it up so they could push it over to the tunnel. CRAZY COOL.
The tunnel it was lowered into is dizzingly large. Our guide opened a little hole in the fence and said, “Okay, if you have no phobias, we will open this gate and you can stick your neck out.” I sort of chuckled, but if I wasn’t scared of heights before, I certainly was after that. I couldn’t see the bottom of the shaft - the tunnel just kept going. It gave me the same gut-wrenching feeling these terrifying pictures always give me.
So, all in all, a great first night at CERN.
Now I’m sitting in my lovely CERN hostel room, snacking on a delicious chocolate covered belgian waffle that came out of a vending machine (but is still better than almost any fresh baked good I’ve ever eaten), and thanking my lucky stars that I get to be here.