Mon, Nov 11, 2013 - Page 9 News List

CERN visit reveals a world of physics

By Suzanne Moore  /  The Guardian, GENEVA, Switzerland

McMahon (Atlas upgrade tracker leader) commutes between CERN and the Rutherford Appleton lab in Oxfordshire, and like everyone here, is thankful for easyJet’s cheap flights. He takes me round Atlas. He seems to know everyone, stopping to chat to an old Israeli, pipe-smoking professor.

As he talks about everything from luminosity to his four children, to explaining the new dimensions and all the other bits of the universe to be explored (most of it) a Russian guy knocks on his door excitedly. He has had some good news on funding.

“You know people say, ‘It’s not rocket science’?” McMahon says. “Well, it is. He is a rocket scientist.”

I tell him I like the big statue of Shiva in the grounds — the old “cosmic dancer” — but I sense a lot of people do not like big expressions of cultural difference, never mind faith. Everything is for a higher purpose, and that purpose is physics.

I have never been anywhere where I felt such a sense of shared purpose. It is in the canteen at lunchtime, where folk whiz about with trays of food and seemingly no system, as if they were crazed particles themselves, so that one fears a collision. However, there is none — just this sense of charged intensity.

People talk passionately in every tongue about the problems they are solving. Everywhere one feels these minds working collectively and intently, and even someone like me, who is not really up to speed on quarks, strangeness, mass and gluons, can pick up this terrific buzz.

What is the universe made of? Matter and force. Or, here, concentration and caffeine. And a new kind of excitement. Real energy. I begin to understand a little of what Lucy said earlier: “We are all here for what CERN is doing. This is a beautiful thing.”

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