CERN: The Source of the Matter

CERN

Story and photos by Kayte Deioma

Dan Brown’s novel Angels and Demons opens in Geneva, Switzerland with a murdered CERN scientist and a missing canister of antimatter. Standing on top of the 27 km (16.8 miles) Large Hadron Collider (LHC), outside the glass-walled control room of the ATLAS particle detector, where scientists are intent on their banks of computer screens, it’s not that great a stretch to imagine that this benevolent academic setting could mask a hotbed of intrigue. World-changing things are happening here.

Scientist at work in the ATLAS Control Room at CERN

Scienists working in the ATLAS Control Room at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

It doesn’t really matter to me that I can’t SEE the particle accelerator under the earth. There’s something fascinating about being at this place where scientists are analyzing the most profound scientific discovery in decades – a potential clue to the source of existence.

I can’t say that I traveled to Geneva specifically to visit CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, but as soon as I knew I was going to be in the neighborhood, I made it my top priority to get on a tour.

I’m more of a social scientist than a physical scientist. I actually dropped physics in high school, because I just didn’t get it. But I’ve take an observer’s interest in this particular pursuit of the source of our existence.

The CERN Visitors Center is just a few steps from the tram stop that brings you from downtown Geneva to the outskirts of town. English tours are scheduled mornings at 10:30, and French tours are afternoons at 3. Guides are volunteers from among the scientists, so your experience will depend on how well your particular guide can explain what’s going on for a lay audience.

Visitors Center at CERN

An inlaid sculpture lights up on the floor at the Visitors Center at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

I was on the afternoon tour in French with my friends JB, a scientist, and Corinne, a marketing professional. The rest of the group seemed to be made up of fellow science fans from high school students to adults. The tone of the orientation film and our guide’s multimedia presentation assumed a moderate understanding of physics in the audience, and I was happy that JB could simplify some of the jargon for my benefit.

Scientist Tour Guide at CERN

A physicist explains how a particle acceleration works on a tour of CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

In basic terms, CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a giant, miles-long underground tube, frozen to unbelievably cold temperatures, designed to create a particle environment equivalent to conditions before the Big Bang in order to see whether the theory of physical mass being created from energy particles can be proved.

They send protons racing through these tubes at nearly the speed of light, crashing into each other 30 million times per second to see whether they can catch a picture of the hypothesized Higgs boson, sometimes referred to as the “God particle,” which is the bit of physical stuff that must exist to prove the theory. Something that is presumed to be everywhere, and yet hard to perceive.

A representation of the inside of a particle accelerator at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

A representation of the inside of a particle accelerator at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

Thirty million collisions per second produce an almost inconceivable amount of data that it takes years and massive amounts of cloud computing memory across the globe to analyze (on a side note, the World Wide Web and the first web browser were originally created at CERN in 1989 as a way for scientists to share research data).

Simulations of particle collisions can be observe in the Universe of Particles exhibit inside the dome, where the guided tour ends. It is an immersive experience where you enter a dark world with lit particle orbs. Some of these orbs have interactive multimedia tabletops. Others are pods that you sit inside to listen to audio presentations.

The "Universe of Particles" exhibit at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

The “Universe of Particles” exhibit at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

The Microcosm, located at the Visitors Center, is another exhibit you can explore on your own that presents more concrete and hands-on displays of the science behind the particle accelerator with models, segments of retired accelerators and photos. It features each of the experiments currently active at CERN. It also includes an exhibit on the history and development of the technology that led to the internet and the World Wide Web.

A piece of a retired particle accelerator at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

A piece of a retired particle accelerator at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

From experiments begun in 2008, researchers reported the first signs of particles with the attributes of Higgs boson on July 4, 2012. Scientists were quick to point out that although they have found a particle that seems to fit the criteria for Higgs boson, and champagne corks certainly flew, they still don’t know what exactly they’ve found or whether it will prove or disprove the Standard Model of particle physics, so the analysis continues.

Unlike your local science museum, which has exhibits to help young minds grasp basic scientific concepts, the CERN visitor experience assumes you have an interest and some basic familiarity with the subject matter.

A piece of a retired particle accelerator at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

A piece of a retired particle accelerator at CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, Switzerland

There is no charge for the guided tours, but an advance reservation, available through their website, is required. You can also visit the Microcosm and Universe of Particles exhibits for free without a reservation, and there is a physics-themed sculpture garden behind the Visitors Center. Children under 8 years old are not allowed on the guided tours, but can enter the public exhibits.

For more information, to explore the current state of CERN research or to schedule a visit, go to http://home.web.cern.ch/

Dreaming of Raspberry Pie

The Best Raspberry Pie Ever

The Best Raspberry Pie Ever at the Town House Bookstore and Cafe in St. Charles, IL

Story and photos by Kayte Deioma

Raspberry pie. An exquisite rarity, but even more elusive, the perfect buttery, flaky crust. Once tasted, it evokes spontaneous cravings at the oddest of times, transporting me back to relive the experience in my mind, salivating taste buds and all. Oh, for another piece of that raspberry pie!

Town House Bookstore and Cafe

Town House Bookstore and Cafe in St. Charles, IL

I came upon this culinary wonder at the Town House Bookstore and Cafe in St. Charles, Illinois, about an hour east of Chicago, where I was visiting my friend Cindy. It’s a charming, historic town on the Fox River, among a cluster of Victorian middle-American towns including Batavia and Geneva.

It’s worth a drive out of Chicago just to cruise the lanes of historic homes and mansions and take a stroll along the river. In summer all manner of water activities from riverboat cruises to canoes add just that perfect pastoral Sunday in the Park feel to any day.

The Fox River in St. Charles, IL

A view of Pottawatomie Park under the railroad bridge from the Fox River Trail in St. Charles, IL

There are things to DO in St. Charles, like take in a show at the Arcada or Steel Beam Theatre, shop for antiques or drive out to the Fine Line Creative Arts Center, located in a converted barn. But the best thing to do in St. Charles is nothing in particular.

Fine Line Creative Art Center

Fine Line Creative Art Center in St. Charles, IL

A walk along the river, an amble down Main Street, a coffee here, an ice cream there, a beer on the patio of the Filling Station Pub or Alley 64, a family dinner at Francesca’s by the River or fine dining at Rox City Grill in the historic Baker Hotel. Just hanging out is a pleasure.

Main Street, St. Charles, IL

Main Street, St. Charles, IL

And if you’re fortunate enough to arrive at just the right time, on just the right day, in just the right season – you might find a memorable slice of raspberry pie in the Town House Cafe. If not, the blueberry cobbler is pretty yummy too.

Blueberry Cobbler at the Town House Bookstore Cafe

Blueberry Cobbler at the Town House Bookstore and Cafe in St. Charles, IL

Braving Chicago’s Culinary Quirks

Story and photos by Kayte Deioma

I’m a picky eater. I’ll admit it. I eat a wide diversity of cuisines, but there are a lot of particular flavors I don’t like. Nevertheless, I still enjoy trying all kinds of different things, just in case I discover something new and wonderful to eat. It’s also hard to discuss the merits of a particular food if I haven’t tried it. This is what motivated me to join the Tastebud Tours “Flavors” Tour of Chicago this week with my friend and fellow travel writer, Lanora Mueller.

Owner Lynn Jaynes doesn’t go out on every tour (several are simultaneous, so that would be impossible), but he came out to give us a little extra background and history of Tastbud Tours, which he started with his wife Karon after finding himself out of a job. The Chicago offerings have expanded to 4 different tasting tours, and the company now also offers tours in New Orleans.

Owner Lynn Jaynes talks to guests on a Tastebuds Tour of Chicago in the back room at Pizano’s Pizza

Our meeting spot was Pizano’s on State Street, not to be confused with the other Pizano’s on East Madison where another tour was departing. Although both restaurants are owned by the Malnati family, this Pizano’s, Rudi’s place, is where Mama comes in every morning and makes the crust and where Oprah has a favorite table in the back room where she can see who’s coming in the front door.

Tastebud Tours

Our guide, Annalynn in front of Pizano’s Pizza on the Tastebud Tours food tour of Chicago, IL

Our first tastes of the day are samples of deep dish and thin crust pizza, one with sausage and one with cheese. It’s my first taste of authentic Chicago deep dish pizza. Guess what. I didn’t like pizza when I came through the door. I still don’t like pizza. But I’m glad I had a chance to try it without risking a meal on it. It’s a great room, with cool wall murals and traditional red checked table cloths, and there’s a good chance I would like some other things on the menu. By the way, the pizza-loving tour guests seemed to enjoy the pizza just fine.

Pizano's Pizza on the Tastebud Tours food tour of Chicago, IL

Pizano’s Pizza on the Tastebud Tours food tour of Chicago, IL

Our guide for the day, Annalynn, led us off down the street following her pizza-paddle Tastebud Tours sign. A zig-zag path down Delaware, Rush and Oak street landed us at Sarah’s Bakery, where we sampled her gooey chocolate fudge brownies, and birthday-girl Debbie received a customized cupcake to go.

Fudge brownie at Sarah’s Pastries on the Tastebud Tours food tour of Chicago, IL

Our third culinary experience was one I was looking forward to with both anticipation and trepidation. Downtown Dogs was our destination for the famed Chicago hot dog. We settled in next door at the owner’s other establishment, the Pippin’s pub, and Annalynn distributed our dogs. Since the idea is to taste it the traditional Chicago way, you don’t get a choice of condiments. This hound comes with mustard, onions, colored green relish, hot peppers, a long slice of dill pickle and celery salt on a poppy seed bun.

A Chicago Hot Dog on the Tastebud Tours food tour of Chicago, ILA Chicago Hot Dog on the Tastebud Tours food tour of Chicago, IL

I dislike mustard intensely, and a dill pickle can ruin just about anything. For that matter, I consider hot dogs a food of last resort. So you might wonder why I even bothered to bring this monstrosity to my lips. But you never know. Sometimes combining a bunch of things I don’t like actually creates something edible. In this case, the hot peppers numbed my taste buds enough that I could actually eat several bites (OK, I ditched the pickle after the first bite), and sort of enjoy the combination of flavors, if only as a novelty. The celery salt is an ingenious touch.

With the primary Chicago food icons behind us, we headed to Heaven on Seven, a bit of New Orleans with Chicago roots. I’ll choose gumbo or jambalaya over a hot dog or pizza every time, so this one was a pretty safe bet for me, and I was not disappointed. There are three outlets for this establishment, created by Chef Jimmy Bannos, a Windy City native who went to culinary school in NOLA and brought his love of Cajun cooking home.

Guests check out some of the hundreds of hot sauce varieties at Heaven on Seven on the Tastebud Tours food tour of Chicago, IL

We made our way to the lower level of Michigan Avenue, where there were no trolls under the bridge guarding the landmark Billy Goat Tavern. It was a goat that fell off a truck and wandered in, not a Grimm fairytale that led to the name.

A tour guide talks to guests in front of the Billy Goat Tavern on a Tastebud Tours food tour of Chicago, IL

The 1964 reincarnation of the original diner with it’s fluorescent-lit bar still serves coffee for 50 cents in addition to its famous “cheezborgers.” There’s nothing too special about the burger, (although the bun is better than average)  but the place is a classic step back in time, and the 50 cent coffee is pretty good.

The final stop on the “Flavors” tour is the historic Allerton Hotel, where the pastry chef creates an original desert for every tour, so you never know what to expect. Our sweet treat was a chocolate/white chocolate mousse, enjoyed in the comfy lounge, where we lingered to rest our feet after an upstairs visit to the Tip Top Tap room which hosted many a famed singer and comedian in an early radio show.

Chocolate/White Chocolate Mousse at the Allerton Hotel during the Tastebud Tours food tour of Chicago, IL

Between the varied tastes, Annalynn regaled us with tales of the landmarks we passed, sharing stories of the Chicago Fire and its few surviving buildings.  We also took a peek at the Tea Room and the Gold Coast ballroom at the Drake Hotel.

Tour guide leads guests on a Tastebud Tours food tour of Chicago, IL

Fortunately, my pleasure in trying new things trumps my picky taste buds, and I enjoyed all the new experiences and learning the history of Chicago and some of its traditional flavors along the way. It was a great way to get to try a lot of foods I wouldn’t normally order and step outside my taste comfort zone. The rain even held off until we wrapped up the tour, although it came down so suddenly, that Lanora and I ducked back in to Pippins on the way back to the car to escape the deluge.

Tastebuds Tours offers several daytime and evening food tours of Chicago with different themes. For more information and to book a tour, go to tastebudtours.com.