CERN proves that particle physics is child's play

Microcosm aims to show that there is a direct link between the Big Bang and the world around us. CERN

Particle physics may be low on the list of most adolescents' priorities, but the European Nuclear Research Organisation, CERN, in Geneva, is hoping to show schoolkids that science can be found in surprising places.

This content was published on September 28, 2000

CERN is best known for extending the boundaries of our knowledge of the origins of the universe. But its freshly revamped visitors' centre, Microcosm, is aiming to show children that there is a direct link between the Big Bang and the world around them.

Microcosm's new interactive permanent exhibition, "What are we made of?", tells the story of the particles that make up our bodies and the forces that hold them together, in fact the basis of the research that is done at CERN. It does this though a series of hands-on experiments and computer games.

"We get over 40,000 visitors a year, and the majority are schoolkids. We wanted to do something specifically for them," says the head of Microcosm, Emma Sanders.

The exhibition is aimed at 13 to 14 year-olds, and has been devised in close co-operation with local teachers with the school curriculum in mind. But it also serves an important public relations purpose.

"CERN wants to explain its research work, and Microcosm is at the forefront of that," she told swissinfo.

CERN is unique in having a science museum on the same premises as an internationally-renowned research laboratory. Some of the 6,000 scientists, who normally spend their days investigate the very stuff of life and matter itself, have had a big imput in the exhibition, suggesting ways to make complicated concepts more accesible.

Among the hands-on experiments are making strawberry ice-cream using liquid nitrogen.

"Our intention is not to make particle physicists out of all the children who come here. We want to incite their curiosity," Sanders says.

"I'm sure there's no real connection in most children's minds between strawberry ice-cream and physics. But hopefully after coming to CERN they will realise that science isn't just something they do in the classroom. Science is everywhere," she adds.

Vistors can look inside three giant hands and see the fundamental particles that make up everything in our universe. They can also investigate the four basic forces that hold the world and everything in it together.

Microcosm is open six days a week and entrance is free.

by Roy Probert

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