The Alphabet of the Universe

One of the most culturally inspiring – yet unexpected – venues where you can find an exhibition about CERN and particle physics these days is the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt. Discover The Alphabet of the Universe: from CERN to North Africa and the Middle East in the cradle of knowledge par excellence.


The Alphabet of the Universe exhibition in Alexandria. (Image credit: Bibliotheca Alexandrina)

With its 400 square metres surface area, about 40 exhibits and more than 50 people involved, The Alphabet of the Universe exhibition was inaugurated on 19 January in the Planetarium Science Centre (PSC), one of the main attractions of the New Library of Alexandria. “The exhibition has been designed to cover four main themes related to particle physics and CERN: what we know; open issues; accelerators and detectors; computing and applications,” explains Barbara Gallavotti, curator of the exhibition. “The exhibits were designed by CERN and the Library of Alexandria and were handmade in Egypt.”

The endeavour started with the signing of a collaboration agreement with CERN in May 2012. Thanks to very successful cooperation with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, it only took a few months (and a limited budget) to make the exhibits and set up the exhibition. “Some exhibits were inspired by and based on existing CERN exhibitions but most of them were created from scratch in collaboration with the PSC,” says Gallavotti. Thus, the Higgs field is explained using pistons (one representing the photon, one the electron and the last one the muon) that can be pushed in order to feel the difference in resistance (thus, “mass”); the principle of detection is shown using a magnetic pendulous leaving different traces on the soil; mesons and hadrons are explained with black and white magnetic pieces that can be put together only according to the allowed combinations.

In addition to the more technical and explanatory part, the exhibition includes a presentation of CERN as the world’s largest particle physics laboratory, where different cultures work together to do cutting-edge science. “CERN is a model for peace and collaboration,” says Sergio Bertolucci, CERN’s Director for Research and Computing, who also contributed to the design of the exhibition. “We hope that, after Alexandria, the exhibition will travel to other Middle Eastern countries and will spread the positive message of fundamental science everywhere.”

The whole production of this exhibition has relied on Egyptian hands trained by experts from the Library of Alexandria, in collaboration with renowned CERN scientists. “The Alphabet of the Universe is a real breakthrough,” says Ayman El Sayed, director of the Planetarium Science Centre. “The Library will build on it to produce more exhibitions that will tour the Near East and North Africa region, including all of Egypt. This is an essential cornerstone for building national and regional knowledge communities.”

Do you fancy a culturally interesting detour from the Egyptian beaches? The exhibition will remain in Alexandria until the end of the year. For more information, please visit the PSC webpages.

by Antonella Del Rosso