I visited CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) because a friend works there but worth a visit anyway as it houses a museum.
It is an international organization located on the border between Switzerland and France, 10 km NW of Geneva center but its easily accessible by tram 18.
With more than 6000 employees (scientists, engineers but also university students) it’s not just a working research center but a small town on its own.
It was established in 1954 in the aftermath of WW II when Europe was on its knees, United Nations Organization and UNESCO were founded in 1945 to foster peace between nations and CERN was on the same line as physics and fundamental research could contribute to this endeavor through their intrinsic neutrality, consistent need for objectivity and their ability to stimulate thought and bring people together in a common purpose. It was also intended to be a counterweight to American dominance by halting the “brain drain” and keeping scientists in Europe.
It houses the world’s largest particle physics laboratory with huge particle accelerators. A lot of things have been discovered here, did you know that this was the birthplace of World Wide Web? Computers and data analysis was always important at CERN, I saw some old huge mainframes… it’s amazing that personal computers in our days are 10 times faster than those huge ones of CERN back in 1989!
At the moment there are 4 big experiments taking place at CERN, the most famous is LHC(Large Hadron Collider) a powerful accelerator that will help getting close to the first first moments after the Big Bang (recreating the conditions a millionth of a millionth of a second after the Big Bang actually!). According to Wiki scientists will test the predictions of different theories of particle physics and high-energy physics, and particularly prove or disprove the existence of the theorized Higgs boson and of the large family of new particles predicted by supersymmetric theories. The truth is that I was surprised when I realized that the collider is lied in a tunnel 27kilometres in circumference!! But really amazing is the fact that in just one second, protons travel 11000 times around the 27km ring of the LHC!!
I saw what most visitors of CERN see, the Globe, microcosm and part of the facilities but my friend took me to some other working areas too that are usually off the beaten path for general public. It was no surprise that most streets are named after scientists (Newton, Democritos, Oppenheimer etc)
As I said a lot of people visit CERN for Globe and Microcosm, both of them have free entrance. There are detailed tours (with people that work there) but you have to book in advance (sometimes you can try to be there early and get on the waiting list in case someone else cancel). You can also visit the museum on your own like I did.
Globe is open Monday to Saturday 10.00-17.00
Microcosm is open Monday to Saturday 9.00-17.00
Inside CERN they have shuttle buses, check for timetables at the reception but if you register at the reception and get a card you may use bicycles and some electric cars!
This is not for everyone. CERN is the one of the two biggest nuclear research laboratories in the world. It is in Geneva, at the French border. This lab carries very important experiments about sub atomic particles and MUST SEE place if you had a piece of physical knowledge.
You need to take an appointment through CERN web site. The REAL physicists will be your guide. Normally the tours are made for 14-16 people or less.
CERN is the world's largest physical particle lab. See more info at www.cern.ch.
Seeing is believing the actual size of the tunnel that they are constructing in the past years and where the first beam will be lit sometime in second half of 2007.