CERN Physics trip 2017
Over the Michaelmas Half Term, 36 Sixth Form students and four staff travelled to Geneva for a three-day trip to the prestigious European Nuclear Research Centre. Over the course of the trip, we learnt about some of the current research being undertaken and the key landmark discoveries that have come out of CERN, as well as developing our knowledge across all realms of Physics, from Particle Physics to Astrophysics.
The main event was a visit to the infamous Large Hadron Collider (LHC); perhaps humankind’s greatest feat of engineering. The LHC is a 27km-long loop in which protons are collided at 99.99% of the speed of light, producing new massive sub-atomic particles, such as the Higgs Boson. We started with a lecture introducing us to the physical concepts used in the LHC, and learnt how the researchers at CERN control the protons in the loop, as well as the development of LINACS (Linear Accelerators) into the circular particle accelerators we see today at CERN – steering particles round their huge loop with super-cooled electromagnets. We were also able to explore two permanent exhibitions at CERN that give an in-depth explanation of some aspect of Physics under investigation.
Following our exploration of the LHC exhibitions, several CERN researchers gave us a tour of both the data centre and Antimatter Factory. While the data centre was incredible, with computing power comparable to hundreds of thousands of off-the-shelf computers, the Antimatter Factory was the highlight of the trip for many. In 1996, CERN created nine atoms of anti-hydrogen; however, without the technology to store them, they were quickly annihilated, along with any chance to study them in depth. It was only in 2012 that the mechanisms for reliable storage were developed, and ever since, the Antimatter Factory has been creating anti-protons, positrons (anti-electrons) and anti-hydrogen (an anti-proton and positron combined). We were able to see the advanced, octagonal accelerator used to merge these particles into anti-hydrogen, as well as learn about some of the astounding research and results that have come from this prestigious facility. CERN use the anti-hydrogen to see in what ways it differs from normal matter, using everything from gravity detectors to Laser Spectroscopy, a process that we found incredibly interesting and look forward to studying.
Overall, the trip was fascinating, and left all of us with questions about both physics and philosophy, that have inspired us to find out more.
Jude Willoughby, Freddie Rawlins, Andrew Bonner
Lower Sixth Form