Wednesday, June 22, 2022

CERN: Science Fiction and the Future of Detection and Imaging

I've had the most amazing few days in Geneva as a guest of Ideas Square at CERN. It's the first time I've been out of the UK in three years, and I was jangly with nerves for a good week before setting off; I'll be jangly with excitement about it all for some time to come.

During lockdown, my friend Dr Una McCormack roped me into some online sessions where sci-fi writers (hello!) were brought in to help / hinder the work being done by students from round the world in attempting to imagine the future impact of technology. This week, a bunch of us assembled in person, got a tour of the Large Hadron Collider and other CERN bits and bobs, and had lots of really interesting chat about, well, everything really. There was high-end physics, and high-end gossip, and high-end physics gossip.

I've returned home with pages and pages of notes in my notebook - bits of new ideas, lists of things to read or look into, random bits of detail. For example, one thing that boggled my brain was that work on constructing the CMS detector (one of a number of detection instruments located round the Large Hadron Collider) was delayed by the discovery of Roman ruins on site which then had to be painstakingly excavated. I'm taken by the Nigel Kneale-ish thought of ancient ghosts being picked up by the sensitive detectors...

Then there was the fact that when building this underground facility the team had to dig through a subterranean river. To do so, they dug down to the level of the river, then froze it and dug through the ice, constructing a concrete-lined shaft through the middle before letting the ice thaw. Ingenious!

And how extraordinary, how liberating, to discover that in visiting the CMS we had crossed the border into France without a moment's thought, let alone all that mucky business with passports. Coming home, there weren't enough ground crew to let us off the plane so we sat stewing for 45 minutes. There must be a better way of doing things, I thought. Which was exactly the sort of thing these few days have been about.

Here are a few pictures...

View of mountains from CERN hostel

Geneva tram, for my father-in-law

More mountains, plus v hot writer

Tour of the CMS facility;
photo of detector like a gothic rose window

Going underground

Warning signs to give one pause

The LHC creates a magnetic field;
look at its effect on these paperclips!

Doctor U and her plucky assistant

New hat / cool museum

Hot, hot evening, and yet snow on the mountains

Marie Curie clearly delighted to meet me

Very heavy lead,
so dense it would shatter to dust if dropped
Arty reconstruction of CMS, using mirrors
 (cf Maxtible in The Evil of the Daleks)

Old-skool, pretty wiring in old device

Where the web,
and so much of my life, began

Cool retro tech in a garden

More cool, retro tech

The Champions
(ie me, Una McCormack and Matthew De Abaitua)

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