Physoc Travels to CERN

1 March 2013

Three days, twenty-four hours of travelling, three countries and a trip to perhaps what is the world’s centre of particle physics!

The University of Surrey Physics Society

In the late days of January this year PhySoc (The University of Surrey physics society) showed such a trip was possible by taking a group of Eighteen students to see the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, Geneva.

We arrived late Monday evening having been on a nine-seater most of the day and receiving a somewhat unplanned tour of Geneva (due to it being impossible to understand the one way system!) We persevered and everyone was resting in the hostel just after midnight, ready to be up bright and early for the next day.


Geneva itself is a beautiful city. We had a delicious breakfast provided to us by the hostel, after which we took a tour along the waterfront to gaze across Lake Geneva. Among what we toured round in Geneva was a huge fountain of water, which goes off every day at 10:00 Swiss time. This provided many opportunities for poses and photos to be taken. We proceeded then to wander more into town where there was a chance for everyone to do some souvenir shopping and buy some traditional Swiss chocolate which we had all come for!

Once everyone had stocked up and had a chance to get some general Swiss souvenirs, we navigated the tram system until we arrived at the League of Nations Building. We walked around the outside of this amazing structure where some of the world's most important decisions had been made. After our whistle stop tour around Geneva we grabbed some lunch and proceeded to get a tram to the other side of was time to visit CERN!

The first thing we saw when getting off the Tram was a huge wooden structure, the globe of science and innovation. Unfortunately we didn't get the chance to look inside due the two tours aligned ahead of us. Our first tour was around the ISOLDE Facility, a tour that was arranged for us from within our department, which gave us a chance to see what work Surrey was involved in at CERN. Two PhD students (both from England) took us around two experimental setups. One was a large laser bench, which was all operated by using delicate machine arms to move parts in and out of alignment. This setup was looking at mass spectroscopy of the isotopes created in ISOLDE and assisted with the selection process of certain isotopes.

The other experiment we looked at in ISOLDE was CRIS, which was looking at laser spectroscopy through certain isotopes. Both seemed like very interesting projects but we were also told a lot of them had to be monitored around the clock due to fire hazards, meaning some long shifts for some of the staff!


Surrey students at CERN

After our fantastic insight into Surrey's research with ISOLDE, we had the arranged tour around the LHC at CERN. As part of this tour we got to see the control room for the detector CMS and we were informed on the current experiments going on. These involved colliding lead ions and protons  (something not done before in the LHC). After our tour of the above ground control facilities we travelled by bus across the valley, which to me especially illustrated the scale and size of the collider.

We arrived above ground at our destination, the CMS detector. Here we were introduced to a PHD student and his supervisor who lead us down 100 metres in the depths of the Collider itself! After being shown the above ground CMS control room, (sparsely populated as most of the experiments are monitored by machines now not people), we were taken through to the lift that would take us down to the physics itself. First we all had to Hardhat up and get provided with a safety brief, but shortly he opened the doors to us (which was controlled by a retina scanner)! As the lift reached the bottom and we all felt like we were inside MI5, we were shown a lot of the equipment used in detections of the collisions of experiments.

One particular thing of interest I felt was that they were colliding tons of particles together at once and detecting what came off during the collisions. However these experiments could run for hours or days and a lot of what was recorded wouldn't be important to the experiment but would take up large amounts of room. Therefore the computer software had to temporarily store data from a collision, analyse it to see if there was anything interesting to keep, then report back to the short term storage telling it what information to a matter of nanoseconds!!!!

Unfortunately we weren't able to progress into the collider itself due to it being in operation during our visit as the radiation levels would have been harmful. None the less we obtained a great insight into the work going on there and it ‘CERNtainly’ peaked my interest in pursuing particle physics.

So overall on the way back to England I think we could all agree we had seen something truly special! In a little under 72 hours we had been through 3 countries, seen the largest particle detector in the world and had a look round one of Europe's prettiest cities. I don't know about the others on the trip but I wish we could go again next year!  I would like to say a huge thank you to the physics department, Cristobel, the IOP and of course the rest of the committee for helping us to organise funds and accommodation. Same again next year?

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