The LHC… er, what is it exactly?


Despite the publicity that the LHC received in newspapers around the world last year, and which will no doubt return as the re-start draws nearer, it remains a bit of a mystery for the people living in the vicinity. The residents of Meyrin were of course well represented among the visitors who came to CERN on the open days, but unfortunately the place where the Web was invented, just around the corner, remains an enigma. And that’s not all: surprisingly, even the Web is sometimes known merely as "something to do with the Internet, right?"

The usual answer to "Why is the LHC being built?" is, "Uh… don’t really know," followed immediately by "But it’s pretty impressive, anyway!" We may enjoy the respect of our neighbours, but our work remains very remote from their everyday lives. Thus, when we ask them if they know of any practical spinoffs from CERN, the answer is first "No" and then "But I’m sure there must be some!"

"This year we set up some new initiatives to improve our visibility locally, starting with a new communication officer for the local communication, Corinne Pralavorio," says James Gillies, the Communication Group leader. Among Corinne’s responsibilities: improving the profile of CERN’s sites and producing a new website to provide regular updates for the neighbours of CERN, in collaboration with other groups and people in other departments. "Our next initiative will be to meet the local authorities to inform them about the LHC re-start process and the activities that will follow," explains Corinne. The meeting will take place in the Globe, in October.

In the meantime, while the new image of CERN for our neighbours is being created, contacts mainly take the form of direct acquaintance with someone working here. One of the people interviewed says, for example: "I have a friend who’s a physicist. He keeps me informed about things, and I had a chance to visit the ring." He adds, "We’ll have to see what comes out of it, but it should be something positive. If it contributes to scientific progress, that wouldn’t be bad at all. Good luck to you!"

Among those who agreed to take part in our street poll, several individuals had the whimsical notion that subatomic particles are "like tiny little objects of everyday life". Others remembered that "the machine is presently being repaired. It ran for a month and then had to be stopped, but soon it will be re-started." The most important fact to emerge, though, is that it took only a minimum of prompting from the interviewer for most people to recall that CERN is a place where basic research is being done, with some enthusiastically adding: "I’m all for it!" In all the interviews, not a hint of wariness about what is being done at CERN came accross. So the people of Meyrin and CERN are clearly good neighbours!

You can watch the complete video of the street poll conducted last week in Meyrin. Forthcoming Bulletin issues will include further episodes, including the Pays de Gex, Geneva, the University, and of course CERN itself!

Watch the video of the interview