Alice Sheppard will be well known to any of you who’ve been to the Galaxy Zoo forum where she does a sterling job as moderator. Not content with putting her to work there, when I heard she was going to particle physics lab CERN in Geneva along with her cohort of trainee teachers, I insisted that she write up her experiences for this site. I’m afraid this is long delayed – and that’s my fault, for which I apologise – but here’s the first installment of her trip diary. The rest will follow daily.
It was one end result of a stimulating and memorable six months for twenty-six future Chemistry teachers – an Enhancement Course at Sussex University for those whose degrees were a long time ago, or did not contain quite enough chemistry, to immediately qualify as a teacher of that subject. “I’ll bet you’ve all been told that matter is just protons, neutrons and electrons,” said Tim, our course leader. Well, science is never that simple, is it? Many of us now know about neutrinos, streaming out in their billions from the Sun and other stars. What few of us knew was quite how many fundamental particles can exist (if only for a few millionths of a second at a time), and just how much has been discovered 100m underground around the mountains of France and Switzerland.
Anyone can go to CERN. It’s a few minutes on the no. 9 bus from Geneva, and it’s easy to find your way around. You can visit the reception, shop and Microcosm (their museum); or groups can book a lecture and tour. We were able to do so, and in English – they are prepared for a range of nationalities. They even have a restaurant, but mind out for the small pieces of octopus in the salads.
On Monday 30th July, amid a bit of a shoe crisis (somebody’s shoes had broken and her feet were very painful; a few more were later momentarily floored to discover that open shoes are not allowed – until we discovered CERN has shoes visitors can borrow), we made our way into Room 33, the reception area. We had been preceded by a flurry of excited questions along the lines of, “You mean it’s true, that Dan Brown book?” and jokes such as “Have a smashing time.” At nine o’clock we had a superb lecture and video – though I recommend a little reading up on particle physics first! The few posts that follow are a mixture of the lecture notes I took and my additions, speculations and random ramblings.