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Created on Monday, 06 March 2017 15:37 | Written by Sharon Lyons

Inspired by CERN

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What is the universe made of? How did it start?

As a zoology graduate I have never really had a great understanding of particle physics, however I think I can now say that that has changed forever.
Earlier this month I had the opportunity, alongside colleagues from other science centres throughout the UK to visit CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research in Geneva, Switzerland. I can honestly say, this was the single most inspiring scientific experience I have ever had in my entire life.

Like most people, upon hearing about CERN I think of the Large Hadron Collider, a 27km tunnel almost 100m underneath the ground. This machine is the largest of its kind anywhere in the world, and helped to confirm the existence of the Higgs Boson, or the God particle as it is affectionately known.
But CERN is so much more than that. Founded in 1952 as a collaboration between many European countries to create a world class research facility on physics, CERN has grown into a partnership between 22 member states including the UK, as well as countless other countries who are associated with their research. There are over 100 experiments going on at this very moment to help us understand what we are made of, where we came from and where we are going.

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Delegates from ASDC Science Centres. Taken by James Summers of ASDC.

The staff members from UK science centres had the opportunity to visit several of these experiments, such as the first particle accelerator ever built at CERN, the synchrocyclotron (try saying that quickly!), the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) and my personal favourite, the Antimatter Factory.
This is the world leading research facility which creates anti-matter using a particle decelerator, and I confess that even after in depth discussion on the research here, I still don’t understand what it is they are doing.

However, despite the plethora of outstanding, world leading scientific research, I would have to say that what made this trip so inspiring would have to be the scientists themselves. The enthusiasm from all staff members we were introduced to was incredible, and their aptitude for science communication is outstanding.

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The synchrocyclotron, the very first particle accelerator built by CERN.

Whether they worked in particle collisions of subatomic material, production of antimatter, data management, education, each individual clearly lives and breathes their work. I find the fact that they are able to be even more inspiring than the equipment they have built or the experiments they have designed to be a testament to the working atmosphere, the ground-breaking science and the knowledge that their experiments could literally change the world. 

I can only finish by saying thank you to the Association of Science & Discovery Centres and Science & Technology Facilities Council for arranging this trip. And if you ever get the chance to visit CERN (which you can easily do by the way) then go for it! You will not regret it!

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The Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS for short) which is a particle detector looking at the particles created by high speed collisions of hydrogen protons. When we say high speed, that means almost at the speed of light. 

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