The exploration carried out by CERN is at the pinnacle of modern research.
An organisation rather than a company, CERN is one of the world’s largest and most respected centres for scientific research and very much in the spotlight at present, as it attempts to understand the laws of nature.
As the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN’s business is fundamental physics, finding out what the Universe is made of and how it works. Such a comprehensive and complex remit ensures the organisation is at the very pinnacle, the cutting edge of research at the highest level.
Indeed, as the organisation focuses on research, technology, collaboration and education its mission statement underlines the ambition and significance of the research undertaken.
The statement reads, “The Organisation shall provide for collaboration among European States in nuclear research of a pure scientific and fundamental character (...). The Organisation shall have no concern with work for military requirements and the results of its experimental and theoretical work shall be published or otherwise made generally available.”
Founded in 1954, CERN became one of Europe’s first joint ventures and now has 20 member states with the CERN Council the highest authority of the organisation and holding responsibility for all-important decisions.
The council controls the body’s activities in scientific, technical and administrative matters, approving programmes of activity, adopting the budgets and reviewing expenditure.
Such activities stem from the CERN Laboratory, sitting astride the Franco–Swiss border near Geneva and the home to some of the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments. These are used to study the basic constituents of matter, the fundamental particles, from the particle collision of which physicists learn about the laws of Nature.
While the organisation finds itself at home in Western Europe, there’s a truly international involvement to the organisation as many other non-European countries are also involved, in addition to the 20 European Member States that it comprises.
Accelerators and detectors
The instruments used at CERN are particle accelerators and detectors, boosting beams of particles to high energies before they are made to collide with each other and detectors observe and record the results.
So where are the gases involved?
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a gigantic scientific instrument near Geneva, largely seen as the fulcrum of the organisation’s colossal research operations. Spanning the border between Switzerland and France around 100m underground, the LHC is a particle accelerator used by physicists to study the smallest known particles – the fundamental building blocks of matter.
Two beams of subatomic particles called ‘hadrons’ – either protons or lead ions – will travel in opposite directions inside the circular accelerator, gaining energy with every lap.
Not only is the LHC the world’s largest particle accelerator, but just one-eighth of its cryogenic distribution system would qualify as the world’s largest fridge.
All the magnets will be pre‑cooled to -193.2°C (80K) using 10,080 tonnes of liquid nitrogen, before they are filled with nearly 60 tonnes of liquid helium to bring them down to -271.3°C (1.9 K).
The LHC is indeed a machine of extreme hot and cold, where two beams of protons collide and generate temperatures of more than 100,000 times hotter than the heart of the Sun. In contrast, the ‘cryogenic distribution system’ which circulates superfluid helium around the accelerator ring keeps the LHC at a super cool temperature of -271.3°C (1.9 K).
CERN strives to bring nations together around the world through collaboration for the same purpose, to enter the frontier of fundamental research.
As CERN describes on its own website, “Someone, sometime, somewhere, may succeed in completing these unfinished mysteries, or even rewrite the chapters entirely. The book is by no means finished.”