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

Final Passage for the USS Iowa

USS Iowa

Final voyage of the battleship USS Iowa from Berth 51 to its new home at Berth 87 in San Pedro, Los Angeles, CA where it opened as a museum ship in July 2012.

When the historic battleship USS Iowa was tugged away from Berth 51 in San Pedro to its new permanent home at Berth 87 on Saturday, it carried not only the memory of the thousands of Navy seamen who served aboard the ship, but some of the men themselves. Ninety-two-year-old Bob Dedic was part of the original crew when the ship was commissioned in 1940, and was back again for this final voyage. So were other veterans and active Navy sailors who served on the ship during its 50-year tenure until it was decommissioned in 1990. There were also active Navy and Navy Sea Cadets as young as 14 all spruced up in their dress whites.

USS Iowa Final Voyage

Volunteers with the Pacific Battleship Center reel in the chains for the final voyage of the battleship USS Iowa from Berth 51 to its new home at Berth 87 in San Pedro, Los Angeles, CA

Dignitaries on board included Congresswoman Janice Hahn and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, both beaming with pride in bringing the future museum ship to Los Angeles. I can tell you they were beaming, because I was on board too, along with a passel of TV crews, journalists and photographers invited to document and share this last hurrah.

Rescued from mothballs where she had been languishing in the Bay Area, the ship made the full 400 mile voyage to San Pedro under the push-pull of a team of tug boats, arriving in Los Angeles on May 30, 2012. She got a bottom scrubbing to remove any potentially invasive species or contaminants before being cleared for the final tow to her new home.

USS Iowa

Tugboats provide power and LA City Fire Boats provide fanfare fountains for the final voyage of the battleship USS Iowa from Berth 51 to its new home at Berth 87 in San Pedro, Los Angeles, CA

The volunteer crew from the Pacific Battleship Center cast off the chains and we set underway for the short journey accompanied by the twin brigantines Exy and Irving Johnson, as well as the tall ship the Spirit, sailing only under one sail to keep her speed down to ours. Two LA City Fire Boats at the bow and stern spouted water streams to martial arrangements of Anchors Away and Oh Shenandoah (an off choice, I thought) creative a festive spirit as we pulled away from land. A few dozen other sail boats, yachts and motorboats joined in the parade.

USS Iowa

Final voyage of the battleship USS Iowa from Berth 51 to its new home at Berth 87 in San Pedro, Los Angeles, CA where it opened as a museum ship in July 2012.

Along our path, close to 1000 people had gathered along the waterfront to welcome the USS Iowa to her new home. Our destination was only a mile away, but to add a little grandeur to the event, as well as better photo opportunities for us and the news ‘copters above, we paraded up the channel under the Vincent Thomas Bridge, where we paused briefly before resuming our tow in the reverse direction.

USS Iowa

Teenage Navy Sea Cadets in the Color Guard for the final voyage of the battleship USS Iowa from Berth 51 to its new home at Berth 87 in San Pedro, Los Angeles, CA where it openwd as a museum ship in July 2012.

Technical difficulties docking meant that we got to enjoy the marching band and cheering crowd that welcomed us from captive positions on the deck while Randy Newman’s I love LA blared from the ship’s speakers. Due to the delay, the young Sea Cadets never got to present the Color Guard during the truncated award ceremonies as proclamations and awards changed hands. They didn’t seem to mind. Having stood their posts proudly as the ship found its new home, they became part of history, documented by TV and news cameras and yours truly for posterity.

USS Iowa Final Voyage

Final voyage of the battleship USS Iowa from Berth 51 to its new home at Berth 87 in San Pedro, Los Angeles, CA where it opened as a museum ship in July 2012.

The USS Iowa is open to the public as a museum ship. For information and tickets, visit pacificbattleship.com.