Sixth Form Physics Trip to CERN, Switzerland Posted: 28/02/23

There were plenty of interactive exhibits for the students to get a feel of the different particle collider and detectors

The first trip to CERN for Wren’s Sixth Form Physics students started (not so) bright and (very) early in the morning, with students meeting at either Golders Green Coach Depot at 3.30am or Luton Airport at 5.00am. Many thanks again to those parents and carers who helped with the early wake up! After a beautiful flight above the clouds, we landed safely in Geneva. Upon landing we were collected by coach to go on our first trip, which was straight to the CERN Visitor Centre, where students saw an introductory film about how the conditions shortly after the Big Bang are recreated in the 27km tunnel where protons bombard each other at 99.99% of the speed of light. There were plenty of interactive exhibits for the students to get a feel of the different particle colliders and detectors, including the first cyclotron used to collide protons which was just 25cm in diameter.

We then went to the research centres cafeteria and students got to see and interact with the physicists and engineers who work at CERN on a daily basis. Our students commented on the feel of the workplace, watching the scientists relax in the Sun, playing ping pong, eating good food and many students said they would love to be in that sort of workplace. We got on a coach for 21km to the other side of the collider in a town called Cessy in France, one of the points of the tunnel where the protons collide and are recorded. The detector called CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid) was the highlight of the trip. Suited and booted in the CERN hard hats, we journeyed 100m underground to see the absolutely enormous detector. The guides who work at CERN had a hard job trying to explain how it was actually a compact detector! The students learned it had to be built in layers in the Warehouse above ground before being lowered underground. It had to be built low enough that the ground below it would not sink under its weight and the nearby populations would not be affected by the radiation released by the collisions. We had not realised what a treat it was to see the CMS detector in real life while the tunnel was not in operation that day.

The day ended with a trip to the gift shop and a Saunders-Davighi-Woolcock quiz special, with the first place going to Jospeh C, 12 Bow, Thomas S, 12 Strand and Aryan M, 12 Ludgate, who won some prizes purchased from the CERN Gift Shop earlier that day. After this we all headed off to get a well appreciated and deserved early night, ready for the next day exploring more of Geneva.

On Saturday, fully rested and restored, we headed into Geneva to first see the M&B Mechanical Art Devices Gallery. The gallery comprised of works beautifully combining Art and Science.  Some impulse buys nearly included dancing feathers, caused by an alternating current through an electromagnetic and a rotating goldfish using the principles of gravity and circular motion covered in the Year 13 course.

Having resisted blowing the pocket money and trip budget, the students got into teams for a treasure hunt around the old town of Geneva. They competed in a variety of quests including finding the outdoor chess and droughts, measuring the longest bench in the world most accurately, locating flower clocks and underground passages, as well as taking the most photos of the team with different Swiss flags. After much adjudication over the flag photos, the womens team came out on top with Tumi O, 13 Holborn, Klara K , 12 Piccadilly and Frankie F, 12 Hoborn claiming first prize and winning some Swiss chocolate. Our full day in Geneva concluded with a game of bowling and giant pizza night. Hats off to Dhruv S, 13 Ludgate who made the most progress in possibly the history of bowling, scoring the highest score of the evening with a late flurry of strikes and spares. Others who deserve a mention are Mr Davighi, Thomas S, 12 Strand, Zach S, 13 Walbrook and Arun P, 12 Piccadilly for all scoring over 100.

On the final day, we walked along Lake Geneva.  After a beautifully sunny day the day before, the wind took us by surprise on the Sunday.  It was so powerful it caused waves to crash over the edge of the lake.  It was hard to believe we were at the same lake which had been so tranquil 24 hours earlier!  We ended at the Museum of the History of Science in a grand old house overlooking the Lake.  The students got to see some of the earliest electric motors and generators, telescopes and balances used to measure mass.

Finally, we made it on to the flight back took off in some really windy conditions, which added to a thrilling take off but was worth it when we saw a stunning display of the Sun’s light refracting above the clouds.

It was a highly memorable trip and was excellent to see how much the students enjoyed it and learned about physics.  The students behaved superbly and were highly curious throughout.  It was a pleasure to take them on this trip and we look forward to making it a regular instalment in the Wren calendar for our Sixth Form Physics students.