During the pilot project, the one thing that was mentioned most often was CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research. I just had a closer look at their website tonight and found out that they have an Open Day on 6 April 2008! I think I’ve just found my dream location for doing the ‘Mutable Matter’ art project! Does anyone know anyone at CERN who could allow me to do ‘science busking’ there? ;)
So why did so many people ‘admit’ to be curious about CERN’s activities – and what goes actually on in there? The most obvious thing to say is ‘they smash particles and see what this can tell them how things work in the universe’. However, their official website reveals many more facets of their activities.
Mind-gymnastics is the word that comes to my mind when reading about the back and forth between the scale of particles, our everyday world and the universe. CERN employees put together apparatuses for antimatter-searches in space and even go into space themselves, they race neutrinos, ‘routinely produce antimatter’ and even ‘anti-atoms’, create ‘The coolest place in the Universe’ just beneath the French/Swiss border, use computing against avian flu and malaria, answer questions about claims made by science fiction novels and even study our climate by looking at the interrelationship between (‘real’ and ‘home-made’) clouds and cosmic rays. What a place to work! On top of all this, CERN is also monitoring its close environment to detect or prevent any disturbances that the creation of cosmic phenomena on an earthly scale may entail. This section also tells you that you don’t have to worry about getting ‘eaten’ by black holes or so-called ‘strangelets’. One could almost say ‘what a shame’… (strange images of Heidi being chased by ‘strangelets’ come to my mind)
The reason why CERN might be on so many people’s radar at the moment is the media coverage about the completion of the Large Hadron Collider which is designed to smash protons together. Fascinating is not only what this collider does, but how gigantic it is, how it is being put together and how it looks. While almost everybody will be in some degree of awe, there are also critical voices.
Like other ‘basic science’ (!) research places, CERN also has to deal with accusations about being a waste of government money that should better be directed towards other causes. The website gives – amongst other plausible examples – a very clever reason why CERN should forever be worshipped: they gave us the internet! And because friendly scientists gave us endless hours of chatroom and youtube entertainment, we can now even say ‘thank you’ by helping them compute their results! What do we learn from this? Two things: 1. CERN does just about anything regardless of scale. 2. The word ‘petabyte’.