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iSGTW Feature - Inauguration day

Feature - Inauguration day for the Large Hadron Collider

What Higgs Boson tracks might look like in the LHC. Image courtesy of CERN

Dignitaries stepped upon a 25-meter long red carpet, an orchestra played, television cameras rolled, and a team of cooks from Italy served science-themed, "molecular cuisine" - including gnocchi in test-tubes, and ice cream cooled with liquid nitrogen (see featurette) - amid displays of superconducting magnets and accelerator components in the hangar-like environs of Buildings SM18 and SMA18.

On Tuesday, 21 October, 1500 people - including prime ministers, the press, physicists, invited CERN staff, and delegates from 40 countries - celebrated the formal, ceremonial inauguration of the Large Hadron Collider at Point 1.8 of the superconducting supercollider.

"All the history is here," said Tim Smith of the Information Technology Department. "My first professor when I was an undergrad, and my first professor as a grad student." Retired CERN physicists also appeared, as well as former director general Herwig Schopper, and LEP project director Emilio Picasso.

Security was tight, as armed policemen with walkie-talkies stood on rooftops, scanning the crowd while vehicles with motorcycle escorts rolled in. (Each contingent arrived and departed in a precise order determined by diplomatic protocol; it took nearly an hour for the whole procession to arrive. The French motorcade alone had 10 vehicles.) Many surrounding streets were closed off.

"It's rare you get this kind of event. The last time was the LEP inauguration in 1989, nearly 20 years ago," explained Frederic Hemmer, deputy head of the IT Department. He said: "This is different from earlier events this year, such as Beam Day or GridFest Day. This brings in the people who provided the funding for the instrument, the detectors and the grid - it lets them see for themselves what we've been doing. We built something that required a lot of international collaboration, and this event is recognition that what we've been doing is something useful."

Taste-testing the test-tube gnocchi. Image courtesy of Ettore Bocchia


To illustrate the history of the LHC, project leader Lyn Evans gave a presentation with a slide show that depicted the earliest days, when a portion of the tunnel for what became the LHC was dug. (When excavations started, workers found the archaeological remains of an ancient Roman villa, including coins from the Roman empire that had been minted in London - "the last time that Britain was part of a common European currency," Evans joked.)

In his address, Director-General Robert Aymar emphasized the necessity for international collaboration in studying particle physics. Afterward, representatives from the member states made remarks, then gathered together to sign a commemorative plate honoring the occasion.

Entertainment consisted of a specially commissioned multimedia show, showing the history of the Universe from the Big Bang to today, featuring photographs taken by National Geographic photographer Frans Lanting, and accompanied by Geneva's Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, which played music composed for the occasion by Philip Glass.

On display nearby stood life-sized photographs of 23 Nobel laureates in accelerator physics, each holding a drawing that explained their discovery. "I told them to imagine that I was a five year old and to explain their theories using pictures," said Paola Catapano, organizer of the event.

Looking at the response of the various delegates to all the offerings, Hemmer observed, "They seem genuinely interested."

-Dan Drollette, iSGTW

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