Visiting CERN

So, would you believe I’ve never visited CERN before?

I was at CERN for a few days this week, visiting friends and collaborators and giving an impromptu talk. Surprisingly, this is the first time I’ve been, a bit of an embarrassing admission for someone who’s ostensibly a particle physicist.

Despite that, CERN felt oddly familiar. The maze of industrial buildings and winding roads, the security gates and cards (and work-arounds for when you arrive outside of card-issuing hours, assisted by friendly security guards), the constant construction and remodeling, all of it reminded me of the times I visited SLAC during my PhD. This makes a lot of sense, of course: one accelerator is at least somewhat like another. But besides a visit to Fermilab for a conference several years ago, I haven’t been in many other places like that since then.

(One thing that might have also been true of SLAC and Fermilab but I never noticed: CERN buildings not only have evacuation instructions for the building in case of a fire, but also evacuation instructions for the whole site.)

CERN is a bit less “pretty” than SLAC on average, without the nice grassy area in the middle or the California sun that goes with it. It makes up for it with what seems like more in terms of outreach resources, including a big wooden dome of a mini-museum sponsored by Rolex, and a larger visitor center still under construction.

The outside, including a sculpture depicting the history of science with the Higgs boson discovery on the “cutting edge”
The inside. Bubbles on the ground contain either touchscreens or small objects (detectors, papers, a blackboard with the string theory genus expansion for some reason). Bubbles in the air were too high for me to check.

CERN hosts a variety of theoretical physicists doing various different types of work. I was hosted by the “QCD group”, but the string theorists just down the hall include a few people I know as well. The lounge had a few cardboard signs hidden under the table, leftovers of CERN’s famous yearly Christmas play directed by John Ellis.

It’s been a fun, if brief, visit. I’ll likely get to see a bit more this summer, when they host Amplitudes 2023. Until then, it was fun reconnecting with that “accelerator feel”.

5 thoughts on “Visiting CERN

  1. karlshak

    I liked that you identified the “accelerator feel”. I worked at SLAC for a few years before peeling off to work on MR physics (though difficult one could actually get good approximations of the spectra of non relativistic many body QM systems ! :-)). But there was something I missed over and above the colleagues and the work that was hard to describe (the synergy between all those smart people, the big machines that go bing, all those Nobel prizes,…?).


  2. Russell Rojas

    Hi. Please hear me out. Rumor has it that CERN is opening a ” portal” to another dimension. …and that one of your technicians was actually sucked through to the other side. Ever see the movie, ” The Mist,” with Thomas Jayne? Watch it please….you might want to proceed with caution. Thanks, Russ


  3. Jerome

    The feeling is incredible, I spent a summer at Fermilab years ago. I happened to take one the DZero tours (do they still do them? I hope so), and was left in speechless awe, despite it being an experiment from the last generation. I recall an infamous biologist once saying he literally broke down in tears when he got a tour of the LHC, and I can’t blame anyone with such a reaction. It’s something different entirely to see the action in person.

    As many have pointed out before, we must never forget that the disappointing and at least mildly irritating null results of the last decade are in no way a failure of experimentalists; their work on these incredible machines is a marvel, and they are among the greatest explorers the world has ever known.


  4. Pamela s sikes

    Its called a parrallel dimension doorway. Going thru does not mean you can come back the same way thats why scientists physicians have went thru and have yet to find their way back



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