I guess all of you have many questions about CERN and are desperately looking for answers. You ended up in the perfect place then.
Profiting my 10-year experience at CERN, I will try to address some of the most common questions, doubts, and tips about CERN.
So enjoy the post and, should you have more questions, add them in the comments on the bottom.
When was CERN built?
At the end of the Second World War a handful of visionary scientists imagined creating a European atomic physics laboratory. Raoul Dautry, Pierre Auger and Lew Kowarski in France, Edoardo Amaldi in Italy and Niels Bohr in Denmark were among these pioneers. French physicist Louis de Broglie put forward the first official proposal for the creation of a European laboratory at the European Cultural Conference, which opened in Lausanne on 9 December 1949. However only two years after, at an intergovernmental meeting of UNESCO in Paris in December 1951, the first resolution concerning the establishment of CERN was adopted. Two months later, 11 countries signed an agreement establishing the provisional council – the CERN was born.
Where is CERN located?
CERN is located exactly on the border between Switzerland and France. While the majority of officies and tertiary buildings are in Swizterland, the biggest part of the SPS and LHC accelerator is built in the French underground.
What does CERN stand for?
European Organization for Nuclear Research or, in French, Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire
How many people work at CERN?
CERN employs around 2500 people (including the DG) from the 22 Member States but in total almost 11000 scientists of more than 100 different nationalities use CERN’s infrastructure.
How much did LHC cost?
The Large Hadron Collider took about a decade to construct, for a total cost of about 4322 MCHF. There are several different experiments working at the LHC, including the CMS and ATLAS Detectors which discovered the Higgs boson. CERN contributes about 20% of the cost of those experiments, which brings the overall cost to about 5300 MCHF.
The total operating budget of the LHC runs to about 1 billion CHF per year, financed by the member states. It goes for operation, maintenance, technical stops, repairs and consolidation work in personnel and materials.
Probably you might think, wow this is a lot. But at the end of the day it is more or less one Cappuccino per European Citizen. Do you think it is worth it? I think absolutely so.
What is the CERN power consumption?
The total CERN energy consumption is 1.25 TWh per year while the total electrical energy production in the world is around 20000 TWh, in the European Union 3400 TWh, in France around 500 TWh, and in Geneva canton 3 TWh.
1.25 TWh of electricity per year is enough to power 300,000 homes for a year in Switzerland or to power about one third of the amount of energy used by the nearby city of Geneva in Switzerland. 200 MW represents instead the average power during the day of maximum consumption in 2018.
The annual electricity bill is around 48 M€ for electricity (+ 4 M€ for distribution). CERN receives its electricity via two very-high voltage (400 kV) power lines connected to the French national grid at the Bois-Tollot substation near the Prévessin site. An emergency back-up supply (130 kV) provided by the Swiss grid can be used if the 400 kV supply fails, for example to power up and reconnect CERN’s general services and security systems (buildings, offices, safety systems, etc.).
What CERN is really doing?
At CERN everyday we try to answer primordial questions. As you might know, the Standard Model of particle physics, a theory developed in the early 1970s that describes the fundamental particles and their interactions, has precisely predicted a wide variety of phenomena and so far successfully explained almost all experimental results in particle physics.
But the Standard Model is incomplete. It leaves many questions open, which the LHC will try to answer.
How much data does CERN generate?
The LHC experiments represent about 150 million sensors delivering data 30 million times per second.
This generates every year more than 50 petabytes, which gives a total of approximately 500 petabytes of data stored on disk and 400 petabytes more on tape. This is a super challenging task which will get even harder during the next years when the throughput is expected to double due to the increase of the beam luminosity pursued by the HL-LHC project. All this data are stored in the CERN Data Centre where about 260 000 processor cores and 15 000 servers run 24/7. Data are also shared around the world through the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid, a massive grid supported by 170 computing centers, 900.000 computing cores, which runs about 2 million tasks daily and allows more than 12 000 physicists to access LHC data.
Can CERN cause earthquakes, end the world, open the portal to other dimensions or make gold?
Probably this is the question that everybody was waiting for. Sorry to disappoint you but the answer is super clear. NO. Nothing of that can happen.
CERN is a super safe place where all processes are meticulously checked and controlled. Although the energy concentration (or density) in the particle collisions at the LHC is very high, in absolute terms the energy involved is very low compared to the energies we deal with every day or with the energies involved in the collisions of cosmic rays.
Can CERN create Black Hole?
Some physicists suggest that microscopic black holes could be produced in the collisions at the LHC. However, these would only be created with the energies of the colliding particles (equivalent to the energies of mosquitoes), so no microscopic black holes produced inside the LHC could generate a strong enough gravitational force to pull in surrounding matter.
If the LHC can produce microscopic black holes, cosmic rays of much higher energies would already have produced many more.
Black holes lose matter through the emission of energy via a process discovered by Stephen Hawking. Any black hole that cannot attract matter, such as those that might be produced at the LHC, will shrink, evaporate and disappear. The smaller the black hole, the faster it vanishes. If microscopic black holes were to be found at the LHC, they would exist only for a fleeting moment.
Why CERN has a status of Shiva ?
The statue is a gift from India to celebrate CERN's long association with India and the big contribution given by Indian Scientists to the CERN's mission which started in the 1960's and continues strongly today. It was unveiled by His Excellency Mr K. M. Chandrasekhar, the Director General Dr Robert Aymar, and Dr Anil Kakodkar, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and Secretary, Dept of Atomic Energy, India. In the Hindu religion, the statue of Lord Shiva is known as the Nataraj and symbolizes Shakti, or life force. As a plaque attached to the statue shows, the common belief is that Lord Shiva danced the Universe into existence, motivates it, and will eventually extinguish it. I hope I got it right. Write in the comments if I am mistaking anything please.
How to visit CERN?
CERN offers free guided tours from Monday to Saturday. If you are lucky enough to come during a Machine Technical Stop you might get the chance to visit also the underground facilities like LHC or some of the big 4 experiments. Getting to CERN is very easy. You can catch the tram 18 from the Geneva Train Station (Gare de Cornavin) or a direct bus from the Airport. Plus Taxi is always an option, although a little bit more expensive.