Visiting a giant magnet

<Photo of CERN CMS near Geneva, Switzerland>Geneva is one of my least-favourite cities. I’m probably wrong, but it seems to be a boring place, saved only by its compact international airport which makes travel a breeze. Last weekend, I changed my mind thanks to CERN and their physics work. Physics is about as interesting to me as Geneva, but the staff make the subject accessible.

Booking tickets for the CERN Open Days weekend was frustrating and overly complicated, but it couldn’t have been easier on the day. At Point 6, we learnt about bending particle paths and particle disposal, as well as the enormous supply of helium required to run all these physics experiments. Our French guide compared the process to train tracks with a switch (except this switch lasts far less time than you can even imagine – a tiny fraction of a second).

<Photo of warning sign at CERN near Geneva, Switzerland>We decided to go to Point 5 after, and although we had no tickets, we were able to queue and gain entrance. A high-on-physics Belgian explained all sorts of logistical information, such as how they use compressed air to move slices of the 14,000-tonne solenoid (pictured along with me!) ‘easily’ by hand. That’s almost twice as heavy as the Eiffel tower and it generates a magnetic field 100,000 times stronger than the Earth’s. There was everything from dry ice to face painting and everyone found something interesting to see and do.

A friend visited Point 4 and saw the spot where the explosion happened that closed down the site for a year soon after opening. Strangely, however, we saw the same thing at Point 6. My guess is they’ve made a few up to help please the crowd. Hey, physics is a hard subject: they’ve got to do what they can to entice us in!

Meanwhile, amongst all these impressive structures and stories was this lonesome sign. Can you guess what it is? I’ll let you know later in the week.

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I'm a technical author, journalist and writer from Australia who has been living in Europe since 2000 and exploring the world from there. My passions are writing, snow sports and travel.

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5 comments on “Visiting a giant magnet
  1. Hmmm…I’ve never visited in Geneva either but perhaps next time I am there I will check out the CERN – sounds interesting and that I actually might learn something which would be impressive when it comes to physics! haha!

  2. Lesley says:

    Warning! Depression caused by lack of air

  3. Wendy says:

    Lesley, you’re surprisingly close! The sign means ‘get out – no oxygen’. People in our tour group came up with ‘man sleeping on the job’, ‘risk of beheading’ and ‘hunchback zombies’ before our tour guide shook his head and gave us the correct answer.

    Breadispain, it really is worth it! Totally accessible physics explanations (phew)!

  4. sabine says: you’re not wrong ! it will never be a Paris, or a London, however, ski, lake -sailing- and hiking makes it interesting.
    2.. never been to CERN, I know I have to, and I’m interested in this topic.. but you are right… need to plan IN ADVANCE.. all booked for the 3 next weeks !!!!!

  5. Wendy says:

    Sabine, yes, for activities, it’s a great area (and for CERN of course). I think the underground open days only happen once a year, but the above-ground sites are meant to be super-interesting too. See you there! 🙂

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