What is CERN Switzerland and why would you visit?

cern switzerland office

CERN Switzerland! There’s no doubt about it… Visiting the Large Hadron Collider when based at Chamonix, was one of the major highlights of our travels.

The LHC right on the border of Switzerland and France is where humankind’s knowledge of science, the universe, the beginnings of time are studied and new frontiers in knowledge explored. Noble prize winners who made their discoveries at CERN, in discovering new particles extended the sphere of knowledge of the composition of the universe.

We visited the Large Hadron Collider at CERN as a family, while on a skiing vacation at Chamonix. My husband has a degree in physics and I know completely zero about physics. Yet, we and our two teenagers were completely enthralled by our visit to the LHC in Switzerland. We too wanted to learn in the simplest form, what the universe is made of, what propels its expansion and what of its future. This is our non-scientific view of what was completely fascinating at the LHC, CERN.

exhibition building at CERN SwitzerlandThe LHC Exhibition Building at CERN, only an hour's drive from Chamonix.

So, What’s at CERN Switzerland?

We took a break from our skiing vacation at Chamonix and instead of doing the usual tourist sightseeing we wanted to experience something different.

Who'd think we'd find it an hour's drive away from Chamonix, at a theoretical physics laboratory ( the LHC)  in conservative Switzerland!

We're all fairly seasoned travellers, we were so “over” yet another ancient ruin, yet another Roman Forum and oh no...not another museum. Part of the attraction of CERN was this place was the polar opposite to the usual historical tourist site. Here, science was breaking new ground and scientists are hopeful in proving the existence of new subatomic particles and a as yet unseen energy field, the Higgs Boson Field. This was mind boggling stuff!

It is this facility in Switzerland at CERN where the world’s top physicists conduct experiments to learn about the forces of the Universe, how it was at the beginning of time and how these forces will determine the fate of the Universe.

They’re studying the unknown; discovering new subatomic particles that will change our current understanding of space, matter and energy.

This is the stuff of science fiction except it’s real and it’s happening right here in this town very close to Geneva.

CERN Switzerland: Tom Hanks

You know, the movie “Angels and Demons”, the one based on Dan Brown’s book – well, that movie was based on concepts and work conducted at the Large Hadron Collider,  CERN. In the movie, the baddies steal half a gram of antimatter in a canister from a secure LHC laboratory at CERN which they take to the Vatican to use as a bomb.

Well, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN is a real place and a real lab and antimatter is indeed part of what the scientists are studying in their experiments here. Parts of the movie were filmed at the ATLAS experiment at the CERN laboratory. This link is about the science behind the story.

To quote Tom Hanks on CERN “Magic does not happen here, magic is being explained here.”

CERN Switzerland: Antimatter

When antimatter and matter meet, they annihilate each other. This is what occurred at the Big Bang at the start of time. The Big Bang produced equal amounts of matter and antimatter. But…immediately after the Big Bang, the matter and antimatter were not exactly equal.

All the antimatter and all BUT a TINY, tiny portion of matter were gone. That tiny, tiny, part of matter that remained after the big bang became the planets, us and the rest of the universe.

This is what’s happening at the experiments at the large hadron collider at CERN Switzerland. Physicists conduct experiments in the enormous 27km long circular large hadron collider to recreate what occurred at the time of the big bang. Antimatter is half of what’s produced in these collisions. As the particles collide, antimatter and its counterpart are annihilated. The LHC scientists are experimenting to collect that wee, tiny part of the particles that remain.

CERN Switzerland:
Discovery Of Other Types of Matter

 Wow! It seems there is more than just matter and antimatter ( I call this substance for lay folk like me) . Scientists at the Large Hadron Collider have  seen evidence of dark matter in galaxies and it seems it is this that holds rotating galaxies together. They’ve seen evidence of ordinary substance momentarily separated from dark. Over time, it is thought that the dark substance becomes more clumpy.

Scientists have surmised the ordinary substance comprises a mere 4% of the composition of the universe. Wow! This is just the stuff we see.

CERN Switzerland: Experiments

The experiments conducted hope to discover as yet unknown subatomic particles.

There may be a shadow particle for every particle that we see in this dimension. “String Theory predicts extra dimensions of space and a new symmetry called supersymmetry. In supersymmetry, every particle should have a massive shadow particle and one of these might be the dark matter particle”.

There may be extra dimensions of space.

There may an explanation to the mystery of why the force of gravity is far weaker than other forces such as electromagnetism. Perhaps gravity sees the other dimensions of space, not yet discovered and as the force is spread out, it’s weakened.

Scientists working at the LHC come from all over the world. At the LHC, they hope to learn and discover the composition of the cosmos which will take us all to a greater understanding of our beginnings.  Where do we come from? What makes us?

Read more about the LHC:

Large Hadron Collider at CERN Switzerland
LHC at CERN Swtizerland
LHC CERN Switzerland

This is how To Get To The Large Hadron Collider CERN.  Based at the Chamonix Ski Resort, we hired a car from the only car rental company at Chamonix.

More nearby:

The Travel and Ski Europe Experience
Annecy City


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