Graphic by Justin Eure
Our first piece on CERN ran today. It’s called “Beam On! Atom Smasher powers up to unravel mysteries of nature.” I’m really proud of all the work Justin and I put into this one. It’s a long read but it’s fascinating and totally worth it (if I do say so myself).
There’s also a video with the piece that really captures the feeling while we were at CERN. The scientists are so dreamy when they talk about the discoveries they could make and the incredible work at the LHC. My favorite quote was from Georgios Choudalakis, a Greek physicist who put it all in perspective for us.
“It is impressive just to look at these things. It is not only the size or the complexity of the detectors, that is maybe the least. It is our temerity. It is the temerity of mankind to challenge this knowledge, to look so far back in the past…that you can really go close to the Big Bang. That is something that blows my mind, that we even came to this point. The fact that the universe created this thing, humans, that are able to go back and look into it. It’s like we are the eye of the universe on its own self.”
It’s amazing to think of it that way. And the work at CERN certainly was impressive, to say the least.
As a side note, I also wanted to respond to some of the questions I’ve been getting about CERN. First of all, yes, it is open to the public. If you are so inclined, call up and schedule an appointment to visit the facilities. You have to notify them a month in advance, and you obviously have to travel to Switzerland, but if you somehow make it happen you won’t be sorry, I promise. We had a connection there, and she set up several awesome interviews and tours and meetings every day. And every single minute of it was engaging and challenging. Even if you do a tenth of the stuff we did, you will have set foot in one of the most amazing places humans have ever built.
And if you’re interested in particle physics, even just a little bit, read about it! It’s fascinating stuff. I have absolutely no science background and a few weeks ago I was talking to the top physicists in the world about their groundbreaking work, and understanding what they were talking about. Once you start to understand a bit about this stuff, it becomes more and more addictive to think about. It continually sparks my curiosity and I find myself reading about quarks and relativity and dark energy for hours on end.
There’s one last thing I wanted to say and that is: go for it. In everything you do, just go for it. About three years ago, I heard about this project called the Large Hadron Collider that was looking into dark energy and dark matter (something I’d heard about and was curious to find out more). I read everything I could about it, and the more I read, the more interested I became. I passed the hours at my boring desk job by reading about this incredible experiment. And then, when I came to Medill and heard about a week off to study with any scientists I could convince to host me, I leaned over to my friend Justin and jokingly said, “Let’s go to CERN!”
We said that joke out loud near a professor who knew a former student who worked at CERN, we did some research and found out airfare really wasn’t so expensive, and three weeks later we were on our way to Switzerland. The lesson in all of this for me is really to just go for it. See if it’s possible. Ask for help. And then just take a leap. It paid off in one of the best experiences I’ve had in my entire life.
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