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Kings Oxford's Physics trip to CERN in Switzerland

10 April, 2019

A-level and Foundation Physics students from Kings Oxford recently took a study trip to Geneva, Switzerland, home of CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. Physics and Mathematics Teacher Latoya van der Meer reports back on their visit.

Our adventure began on 14th February with a smooth flight to Geneva and a train ride to Nyon, just outside Geneva, where our excellent hostel was located. 

The next day we caught an early train to Broc-Fabrique, an area in the Canton of Fribourg. We passed by the beautiful sights of Lake Geneva followed by glistening hills and mountains covered in snow. The students were really up for the first stop — tasting chocolate at Maison Cailler!

Here we went on a theme park-like walk taking us through the history of chocolate. Each area of the walk-through was decorated in the style of the era it discussed, from the ancient Incas to the French revolution, the great economic collapse of the 1930s, and Maison Cailler chocolate today. We could taste, feel and smell the raw ingredients, and listen to stories of farmers that cultivate them.

The budding engineers amongst us were fascinated with the robotic arm that picked up chocolates without damaging them from a conveyer belt, before another part of the machine would package them. The best bit of course was getting to taste an assortment of chocolates. It was amazing that some students didn't end up sick — you'd have thought that some hadn't eaten in a month with how many chocolates they managed to stuff down! Students commented:

"The chocolate factory was actually amazing with lots of information and contents, even more than I expected."

"It was outstanding, and also very educational when learning about how chocolate is manufactured."

Around lunchtime we took a train to Gruyères, were first we visited La Maison Du Gruyère which is a cheese factory.

There was much to learn here about how to make cheese, and we could watch the cheese maker stir the 'cheese' at the right time when the milk had curdled enough. We also received 6, 8 and 10 month old Gruyère tasting samples which we munched on as we walked around!

From here we walked up the hill to Gruyère village, a medieval town with a 13th century castle at the top.

Signpost to Gruyeres village.

The final part of the walk up to Gruyères village.

The students were free to explore on their own and make their own lunch arrangements. We caught a large group of them indulging in fondue at a restaurant set in a traditional Swiss Chalet. At 5.00pm we took the train from Gruyères back to Nyon, and the students had free time till 10.00pm for dinner in Nyon if they wished.

On Saturday we set out early by train and tram, to arrive in time for our 9.00am tour of CERN. We were given a lecture about CERN, its research facilities, experiments and aims. We then took a bus to visit the cryogenic test facility where the superconductive magnets that are part of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) are tested. We received a thorough explanation that allowed our A-level and Foundation students to apply what they learned in class.

"It was cool to finally see all we're learning in action. Visiting CERN allowed us to get a first hand view of the complexity of such projects."

The group outside the building. The group outside the building.

The cryogenic test facility where we took a closer look at the superconductive magnets employed at CERN.

We were subsequently taken to visit the control room of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) which is a different particle physics experiment attached to the International Space Station. It is operated at CERN and contributes to our understanding of particle physics by detecting particles that otherwise would be absorbed by the Earth's atmosphere.

Group in front of the arm.

A group photo with the transport arm that held the AMS in place before it was sent up to space.

Before lunch we also visited the first of the two permanent exhibitions: The Microcosm. This was an excellent exhibition with many interactive displays.

Lunch followed at the CERN restaurant before a short visit to the second exhibition: The Universe of Particles. This was visually stunning, and accompanied by a short 6-minute film explaining the unsolved mysteries of the universe.

"The exhibitions were really fun and engaging."

This concluded our time at CERN and students spent the rest of their afternoon exploring Geneva before heading back home the next day. This was a very successful trip and we will be looking at returning in the future.