First up an admission, I am not a Science person. I am a history girl, I do dead people, bits of broken stuff dug up from the ground, dates, battles and bones. I don’t do atoms, physics, science, chemistry, things that travel 99.9999991% the speed of light, quarks and hadrons. Way back in school when I was choosing my A-levels I realised I loved Chemistry and History, I was good at both, but I wasn’t allowed to take Chemistry, History and English. If you take Chemistry you have to take Physics and Maths and that didn’t seem like enough fun for me, so I parted ways with Chemistry and said goodbye to Science.
Yet, here I am writing a review of an exhibition at the Science Museum, an exhibition about the Large Hadron Collider of all things. Now, just to reassure you I am not a complete novice, I have heard of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), I know it is in Cern in Switzerland, I know it is underground, I have heard of the Higgs boson, the so called ‘God Particle’. Much beyond that I think I am going to struggle. So this exhibition is going to be good for me, it is going to be ‘educational’. As a bonus I have taken my husband along, he does the science thing, he gets the whole massive galaxy, things rotating, force and mass. Basically he is my insurance card, if I don’t get it he can explain it to me.
The first thing I see in this exhibition is a champagne bottle and right there and then I know I am going to like this attempt to take you inside the ‘World’s Greatest Experiment’. They top this off by giving you a badge, I am easily pleased and put it on straight away. I feel like this ‘science’ thing is going to be my new thing and we are going to be best friends.
I won’t lie about this exhibition. I thought it was going to be dry, a bit beyond me, far to educational to be fun. I was wrong. I really enjoyed it. I loved the layout, the design, trying to make something complicated accessible. They talk in the beginning of the “unblinding”, the way the data is hidden to prevent the analysts from ‘unconsciously biasing’ the results. I think it is a good way to go into this exhibition, not biased that it will only be for fans of sub-atomic physics.
The Science Museum tell the story not with numbers and diagrams, data and instruments (all though these are all present), the success comes in telling the story with people. They are personalising the ‘science’. They have made me realise it is the efforts and endeavour of 10,000 people, who built the LHC at Cern, who work there, who strive, compete and argue there. It is a chain reaction not of particles, neutrons and protons but of people, of ideas and hard work. The Science Museum do this by recreating the simple things, the things we can all understand, the corridors, the posters on the wall, the offices, the shoes left on a desk, the jokey cartoons and a favourite Snoopy mug. You begin to realise the passion and dedication, the failures, the successes.
There were three students being shown round by a tutor, he was explaining concepts and they were debating aspects of the process. Near the end they stopped, to take a picture of themselves walking the corridors of Cern, it was entertaining to watch them, they were laughing and one commented “This is so cool!”. I loved that moment, the personalisation of science, something I shy away from, because it seems a bit too complicated to get my head round.
I said I wouldn’t lie to you in this post and I won’t. I can’t tell you I understand everything, I can’t tell you I didn’t need my husband to clarify a few things for me. But I can tell you I understand a lot more than I did at the start, I know what a quark is and I know what a hadron is. The Large Hadron Collider is complex there is no getting away from that, you don’t want it to be simplified to such a degree that you lose sight of why it is the world’s greatest experiment. But the Science Museum have shown me what I do understand, I understand people and work places, offices and colleagues. When you see these people, from all over the world every nationality working together from Italy, Australia, India, Switzerland, France, Sweden, Spain, the Netherlands, UK, Poland, Argentina and China. They have been brought together like the particles they watch over and analyse, the collision of minds is I think a bigger and more wonderful experiment than the Large Hadron Collider can ever be.
So go, go to the Science Museum, step inside the tunnels of Cern, learn about the ‘World’s Greatest Experiment’ and impress your friends over dinner with talk of the ‘unblinding’, of quarks and hadrons. Take the opportunity to learn about all those people who work underground somewhere in Switzerland. See why this is history in the making. So when I said at the start I only do history, perhaps I was in the right place after all.
Collider at the Science Museum runs from 13 November 2013 – 6 May 2014
Adults £10, concessions £7, Children under 7 go free
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