Students’ Speed of Light Physics trip to CERN

A group of 15 students, plus Mick de Pomerai, Curriculum Manager for Physics at Alton College, and Amelia Hartley, an ex-student now studying Physics at Southampton University, left College at 4.30 am on Thursday 25 June to catch the first flight to Geneva from Gatwick. The group arrived at CERN Reception in time for their 10 am start - an introductory talk from Dr. Vince Smith MBE, of Bristol University. 

Following the talk, the students walked over to the ATLAS control building where they were able to see the current tests on the detector under way. Underground visits are not possible when the Large Hadron Collider  is in operation due to synchrotron radiation, but the huge mural and lego model of the detector, plus video screens, all helped to explain what was going on. They then visited an exhibition of one of the historic pieces of early equipment (a cyclo-synchrotron dating from the 1950s that was the first to prove the existence of neutrinos), which has only recently been opened to the public now that radiation levels within its 2-metre-thick concrete walls are safe!

During the lunch break, students were able to visit the ‘Microcosm Garden’ where what look like modernist sculptures are actually redundant bits of CERN ‘scrap’ (high-grade copper and stainless steel) - a huge van de Graaf machine, a radio-frequency accelerating chamber, and two huge bubble chambers.

During the afternoon the group was bussed to the main Control Centre for the Large Hadron Collider and then taken to the Engineering test facility and shown how the superconducting magnets and proton acceleration chambers work; also how the sections of the LHC are connected together to allow for expansion and contraction. At the end of a long day, the students' verdict on the trip? Fantastic!

Find out more about studying Physics at Alton College here