JOHN MAKES A DIS-CERN-ING VISIT
2 APRIL 2007: John was invited to visit CERN, the world's largest particle physics laboratory, just north of Geneva on the border of Switzerland and France to take part in a podcast. He was accompanied by Scott, his in laws Sterling and Shelagh Gill and his manager Gavin Barker, and they were the guests of Dr Brian Cox, the scientist and TV presenter.
The Large Hadron collider (LHC) at CERN is the largest scientific experiment ever attempted. The 27km-long machine can recreate the conditions that were present in the Universe less than a billionth of a second after the Big Bang, and it can do this 40 million times a second.
These mini-Big Bangs are surrounded by giant detectors, two of which are ATLAS and ALICE (the other two are called CMS and LHC-B). ATLAS is a general purpose detector - essentially a 7000 tonne, 20m high and 40m long digital camera, that takes pictures of the mini Big Bangs and looks for new particles and phenomena that would have been around in the Universe in those very early times.
ALICE is tuned to something slightly different - it uses a detector which includes the wonderfully named Time Projection Chamber to look for a quark-gluon plasma, the strange state of matter that we beleive filled the Universe in these very early times. The Quark-Gluon plasma is a kind of soup, out of which the normal matter that makes up our bodies, and all the stars and planets we see today, are made. It was a new and very different experience for John.