Virtual visits and Hangouts – how cool is CERN…

New media are really making the world smaller. Using a simple lap-top and Vidyo® or Google Hangouts, you can visit experiments’ control rooms and ask physicists those questions you always wanted to ask, all from the comfort of your own home. Here’s how a few people connected with CERN recently.


Students from the Al-Quds University in the Palestinian West Bank participating in the ATLAS virtual visit.

It was an old-fashioned aeroplane which took Kate Shaw of the Udine ICTP (Italy) ATLAS group to give a particle physics master class to about 20 students from Al-Quds University in the Palestinian West Bank, but it was via the ether that they were able to take a virtual visit of the ATLAS control room on 2 April. Without having to deal with with the complications of international air travel, they were able to see the experts, monitors and screens via two remote controlled cameras mounted on the ceiling of the ATLAS control room. By the door there is another screen, where Steve Goldfarb, one of ATLAS’ outreach co-coordinators who hosted the virtual visit, and Sue Cheatham, a post-doc at McGill University in Canada and part of the ATLAS trigger team, were able to see the students at Al-Quds and chat to them about particle physics experiments via hand-held microphones.

“We started doing these visits on an ad hoc basis about a year ago,” explains Steve, “and we’ve given tours to schools and universities from Japan, Australia and India; on Wednesday it was Greece. It’s so great to be able to connect with people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get here.” The ATLAS team is now hoping to open up the offer to more virtual visitors. “Anybody is welcome,” he says, “and all you need is a laptop.” There’s more information on how to sign up on the ATLAS Virtual Visits website.

For its part, the CMS experiment is using Google+ Hangouts (essentially a video chat with up to 10 participants) to make virtual contact with the public. The most recent CMS Hangout on 4 April, moderated by CMS physicist Vasundhara Chetluru at Fermilab, connected a school in Brazil and three interested individuals with Dave Barney at CMS, Steve Goldfarb at ATLAS and Mirko Pojer in the CERN Control Centre. “This was a special ‘on-air Hangout’ because it was broadcast live so anyone in the world could view it,” explains Achintya Rao of the CMS communication team.

The initiative was much appreciated by the participants. “I loved how the scientists answered the questions. It was easy to understand, yet there were many things that I didn't know and now want to learn more about. Plus they were really funny!” said a young participant. And a teacher who participated in a previous CMS Hangout confirmed: “My students were excited to interact with an actual physicist at CERN and they learned a lot from the experience. We appreciate you taking the time to "hangout" with us. It was a great experience that I'm sure my students will never forget.”

Over 6,000 people have CMS’ Google+ page in their circles, meaning they see every CMS post. “Our first Hangout in February was featured on the Google+ homepage, so that attracted a lot of people,” explains Achintya. And he confirms: “It’s a great way of sharing our enthusiasm for physics with people outside CERN.”

by Joannah Caborn Wengler