I’m no particle physicist, and the chances of me ever stepping inside the CERN laboratories are pretty much never. But for one brief, shining moment, I could imagine I was there. A scientist, observing the greatest experiment of modern science: The Large Hadron Collider (LHC). All for the price of a museum ticket.
If you are not in Sydney (Australia), then not only are you missing out on the stunning weather and awesome beaches, you are also missing out on yet another amazing exhibit at the Powerhouse Museum: Collider.
I’m not sure who at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS) has been bringing these special exhibits to the party, but they are doing a FANTASTIC job. Last year, they scored Nathan Sawaya and the Art of the Brick: DC. Now, the Powerhouse Museum has an exhibition giving a behind-the-scenes look at the particle physics laboratory in Geneva, CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research), which houses the LHC. Yes, this is the same LHC most famous for proving the existence of the Higgs boson.
Before the exhibit, this was how I imagined it: In a secret scientific laboratory (known to the general public), deep, deep, DEEP underground, maybe next to a volcano (or maybe not), and maybe with sharks in a pool near my desk (or maybe not), scientists are discovering the building blocks of the UNIVERSE!!!
Yeah. I was way off. A little less Dr No. A lot more thinking of ways to ‘poke the particles’.
Seriously, who here has been inside the CERN Laboratories? Well, not me, and probably not a large chunk of you reading this. But I am really curious about what they do in there. And THIS is the exhibit to show you.
In fact, I even met someone who used to work there: PhD Candidate Curtis Black, Educator at the Powerhouse Museum. This guy walked down a hall of the exhibition in Sydney, and for a moment he thought he was back at CERN.
Curtis was our Tour Guide through the Collider exhibit during the MAAS Family Day. If you are lucky enough to have him as your guide, you are in for a treat. Curtis is currently finishing his PhD at Sydney University, researching the Higgs boson. While studying, he was also a member of the ATLAS Experiment, working with one of two general-purpose detectors at the LHC. Scientists around the world are working collaboratively on this experiment, investigating a wide range of physics from the Higgs boson to particles that could make up dark matter. All of his amazing knowledge and experience enrich the tour, with insights you could totally miss on your own.
I also scored some bonus time chatting with Curtis afterwards.
EG Mum: What was the most exciting part for you about the Collider Exhibit coming to Sydney?
Curtis: I really liked how it is able to convey what particle physics is about to a whole range of people who really had no idea to begin with. It provides a really good feeling about what it is like to work at CERN.
Curtis: Usually, the LHC only shows up in the media when something goes wrong, like “CERN wants to create black holes to destroy the Earth,” which is totally incorrect. Instead, this exhibit gives a really good general awareness of what scientists really do.
EG Mum: So how important is the LHC to the next generation?
Curtis: It will depend on who you are, but I think this will encourage kids to explore science even further. This exhibit is the most accurate display of what it is like to work at CERN and this environment. It is not just “science”; it is showing lots of different parts of science.
EG Mum: Well, if the kids do explore science even further, where do you think they will go with the LHC from here?
Curtis: There are a lot of directions! This is just one big thing in a big research list, which you see in the exhibit. The exhibit is like a big puzzle, breaking down little pieces of the Collider to show you what is there and then piecing it back together. There are so many areas to study after this, like dark matter. We really need to determine or find dark matter. We have theories but we don’t know what it is exactly. We know it creates a lot of gravity around it. And there are two different ways to look for it. But the LHC provides extra confidence in finding out what dark matter is.
EG Mum: When the kids find inspiration in the Collider Exhibit, what advice do you have for parents of budding scientists?
Curtis: Go with it. Feed whatever they are interested in and focus on that. I mean, I was always into science and physics, and during my undergraduate studies, I was exposed to a lot of different areas of science before I narrowed it down. For me, it was a case of feeding my curiosity rather than focusing on practicality. That’s why particle physics works for me. Find what works for them.
Curtis: And encourage them to read everything. And try anything. Most of the skills you learn as a scientist can transfer to other fields. Like, computer programming. You’ll see in the LHC exhibit there is a lot of computer programming to solve physics problems. And now I can use those programming skills to teach and develop education programs at the Powerhouse Museum.
He’s not kidding. You can snoop around a researcher’s workbench, and spy on the original notes taken during observations. You can take a walk through the CERN control room. You can see genuine parts of the Collider brought to the exhibit to show you what it is all about.
The Collider Exhibition is at the Powerhouse Museum until 30 October 2016, when it will return to the Science Museum, London.
Adult tickets are $20, Concessions are $13, Children over 4 are $5, and Family tickets are available for $45. Tickets include general admission to the Museum.