A matter of conCERN

Contributed by
Mar 28, 2008

So I've told you most of the good news about things I'm working on right now, including Skeptologists and the CWA. But there's a third thing that I'm also really excited about.

Regular readers know about Brian Cox, a British physicist/rock star who does lots of TV interviews and the like. He and I met a few years back when he was filming a documentary about NASA's Deep Impact probe which smacked into a comet, and he interviewed me about the tie-in with the movie of the same name. Brian works for CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research*. In France and Switzerland, CERN operates particle accelerators that have been used for decades to push our knowledge of subatomic physics forward (and more than one Nobel Prize has been given due to work done at CERN).

Currently, they are building the extremely amazing Large Hadron Collider, the beefiest and biggest particle accelerator ever built. The hope is that it will open up new doors into the quantum world, and help scientists understand just what the heck is going on in the Universe on the smallest scales we can understand. Even after decades of research, there are lots of questions still hanging around, like why is there gravity, why is it so weak compared to other forces, and why do particles have mass? LHC may very well answer these questions, or at least get us heading in the right direction... and for the record, it won't destroy the planet, either.

Is that Brian himself immortalized in an XKCD comic? I think maybe. Edited to add: I freely admit I stole this joke from Dave Pearson.

Anyway, due to budget issues, CERN is going to decommission some of the older accelerators, and they will be shutting them down soon. As a final gesture, Brian and his wife Gia (who absolutely rocks and is also a science geek, TV host, blogger, and just all-around cool chick) want to make a video about the facility, and have invited me to come to England and film with them!


I've never been to England, and even if I ever had this would still be incredibly exciting. I've never seen an actual accelerator before; a few years ago I visited Fermilab in Illinois, but didn't see the actual hardware. I've also never been to France of Switzerland either, so this trip will be amazing.

I'll be heading over to Jolly Old England on April 16th, and it looks like I'll have most of the 17th to fool around and look for David Tennant. :-) But we're thinking that on the evening of the 17th we'll have a meetup of some kind, a skeptics-in-the-pub type party somewhere, maybe Soho. I'll let Gia figure that out, since all I know about England is where London and Cardiff are (yes, I know, that's Wales, but it's also where The Rift is, which is why I know about it). I might even be able to round up a few other skeptics, too; more on that as it develops.

The next day we'll fly over to CERN, film for a day or two, and then head back to the UK. I'll stay one more day and then come home, so there might be another chance for a meetup of some sort.

I cannot say enough how chuffed I am about this. I can't wait!

*It originally stood for for Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire

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