I woke up at 7:00AM for a 2:00 tour of CERN. Clearly, I had some time to kill. If I were a smart world traveler, I would have read about all the attractions, parks, museums, and activities that were available in a city like Geneva. If I were a smart traveler, I would have these listed on a piece of paper, perhaps with a map attached. If I were a smart world traveler, I would have brought an umbrella.
I am not a smart world traveler. However, I have a hat, a towel and a cheerful disposition - so I set off walking.
The first thing I discovered during my wandering was a small science museum, situated in a lovely park by the lake. When I reached the front door, I discovered something else - the people of Geneva really don't like to do anything before ten in the morning. So, I kept walking.
I wound up on the lakeside, when I caught sight of something in the distance. It was a familiar band of color, set against the rainy, muted greys of Geneva. The streak of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet drew me like a Siren's call. I've heard of tourist traps, but this was like a geek-trap - I think I know how flies feel as they streak toward a bug-zapper. Luckily, I was neither electrocuted nor captured by an evil madman and forced to build a superweapon (or was I?)
I was, instead, amazed.
It turned out to be a special public exhibition: CERN through the lens of Peter Ginter. Put simply, the exhibition consists of fifty large photograps, each with a caption and explanation, mounted to poles along the quay. But the simple explanation does not do this project justice. It is much more than a photo album of a science experiment. In just a few pictures, this display manages to communicate not only the astonishing scale and minute precision of the LHC, but it conveys something of it's spirit, as well.
Proud eyes look out from the weathered faces of Russian factory workers who sit atop hundreds of brass shell casings left over from the Soviet military. 800 tonnes of these casings will be melted down as part of a program to recycle old Russian weapons into peaceful purposes.
In another image, three violinists from CERN play in the foreground as one of the massive magnets of the LHS is hoisted on a crane behind them. Other images show the incredible size and beauty of the LHC itself. One shows the massive underground chamber that houses the CMS detector before it was installed. The hauntinly empty space is cathedral-like. In another, a physist is barely visible behind the stacks of papers on his desk.
Perhaps my favorite image is of a physicist in black robes, meditating peacefully before a component of the accelerator. The unison of science and spirituality in this image is so different from what we are used to in America. It seemed to convey the idea that we are all searching - within ourselves or within the spectacular collisions of atoms - for understanding.
After walking slowly amongst the images and descriptions, I was more eager than ever to see CERN for myself. For me, this trip was about the science - but I was beginning to understand that this place was about more than science: CERN is a human endeavor. Scientists from around the world find themselves working together, sometimes from the unlikeliest of places. Physicists from Palestine and Israel, Pakistan and India, and many others are united in this one place - all working toward a common goal.
All this, and I wasn't even at CERN yet... This was shaping up to be a great trip.
P.S. - Apologies for the late post, for some reason this was incredibly hard to write...