The Russian Grandmother Learns about Particle Physics In Geneva

(actually it’s not very cold in Geneva, so I haven’t even been all that bundled up. but it’s a fun thing to title the post and I’m going with it.)

Carl and I find Science!

We got up and had the free breakfast provided by the hostel, and took off for CERN. We ended up getting there pretty early because the public transportation in Geneva is so good! There are trams really regularly in most places you want to go, and buses, and they have fairly good signage. And since we get to travel on it freely, it’s been really liberating for Carl and I. We just hop on and give it a try, rather than stressing to make sure we’re on the right one at the right time and trying to limit our trips and all that. The Genevan public transit gets a good review from me!

The trams are almost always PACKED with people, so I took the opportunity at the end of the line to document it.

At CERN we were an hour early for our tour, but that gave us time to go through the pretty good museum they have on site. Then we had a tour in English from one of the PhD students working on one of the four major experiments that go on there. The tour was really good. Between the museum and the tour and talking to Carl, I feel like a have a pretty good sense of what they are doing, how they are doing it, and why, which is pretty cool. And it was cool that only yesterday the higher-ups at CERN had made their every-6-months big announcement about their progress, and they’d narrowed down the range of masses in which they could find the Higgs boson particle, and had a few tentative signs of what might turn out to be the Higgs boson. So that was exciting. One bummer was that we couldn’t go down and see the tunnel itself, since they’re still running it right now, but I guess we’ll just have to come back in a year or two… If you’re interested, I might write more about that stuff (the how and what and why of the Large Hadron Collider), but it’s probably better explained in person, and probably not even that interesting to anyone else if you’re not actually at CERN.

When you're at CERN, in Geneva, in Switzerland, even your wall clocks are sponsored by Rolex. what a world...

But what I was struck by is the cooperation necessary for that kind of venture. There are at least 3,000 scientists at CERN on location, not to mention thousands of them around the world working on the data, and all of them have such, SUCH specific jobs. Like, there is probably someone whose whole job is tuning one functionality of one kind of detector (of which there are several) that might not ever get hit by The Right Particle. Everyone has to put in years on their little piece, but together they are about to confirm or scrap a really important theory for explaining the interactions in the universe. It kind of blew my mind to think about that kind of teamwork.

And of course Carl was fascinated and on cloud nine to be at “the Mecca of Physics”. (or at least particle physics) It was fun.

Then we went back to the hostel and had our lunch of bread and cheese and meat, and of course FANTASTIC chocolate, from the grocery store. The question at the grocery store is Which kind of chocolate should we try today? not Should we get some chocolate? and that is how it should be in Geneva, Switzerland.

Ramen-type noodles, an orange, and chocolate: the dinner of Champions (or student travelers who have their priorities straight)

Then we went to a suburb, looking for a Christmas market, which turned out not to be there or something. BUT we salvaged the afternoon with a lovely walk around the Old Town in Geneva. We stopped in an antique scientific instrument shop, and messed around with some old cannons, and walked up and down the cobbled streets and talked about philosophy and life plans and all that.

My best Napoleon pose... Yes, it doesn't have much to do with Geneva, but he spoke French, and that's close enough to justify me being ridiculous.

Then we somehow found ourselves in the SUPER ritzy shopping district so we window shopped, talking about which diamond-studded, HUGE, gold watch we would buy if we gained ridiculous amounts of money and lost our senses of decency and taste. It was so fun.

Dinner from the grocery store, and that was the day. We may watch Wall-E tonight, and off to more adventures tomorrow.

Solid day in Geneve.

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