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Published: April 17th 2012
Freddie Mercury statueParticle accelerators, jet fountain and Freddie Mercury
Freddie Mercury statue next to Lake Geneva
Over the years we have probably met hundreds of people who think we are from Switzerland. People seem to have a problem with telling the difference between Switzerland and Sweden. So, only to confuse people even more, Ake decided to visit Switzerland for a few days this winter. A Swede going to Switzerland. That, if anything, is going to confuse people.
Most of the time I was in Switzerland I stayed in Geneva in the far west of the country. I have been thinking about going there for several years. The reason is in Geneva you can visit the nuclear research facility CERN and that is a physicist’s wet dream.
If you have no interest in visiting CERN then Geneva has very little to offer when it comes to traditional tourist sites. It is a pleasant town and you can easily spend a day or two just walking around. It is going to be one or two very expensive days but otherwise not bad. But in the terms of tourist sites, Geneva has very little to offer.
My favourite in Geneva, other than CERN, was simply to walk along the
Jet d’Eau is a fountain located a hundred meters or so out in Lake Geneva. The pumps feeding the fountain are powerful enough to shoot water 140 meters into the air.
waterfront along Lake Geneva. Many of the houses along the lake are spectacular and the blue water of the lake with the towering mountains behind is wonderful.
From the waterfront you can also see one of the most photographed objects in Geneva, Jet d’Eau. Jet d’Eau is a fountain located a hundred meters or so out in Lake Geneva. Like its name indicates it is a jet stream of water and the pumps feeding the fountain are powerful enough to shoot water 140 meters into the air.
Another place much photographed in Geneva is the L’horloge Fleurie, or the Flower Clock. It is a large clock, located in a park named Jardin Anglais, with thousands of flowers around it. The clock itself is said to have the longest second hand in the world but other than that it is just a large clock. The flowers around it are probably more interesting in summer than in winter because I was not terribly impressed. I rank the L’horloge Fleurie as a you-have-to-take-a-photo-of-this-when-you-are-in-Geneva. I never ask why I have to take a photo of these things. I just go and shoot the picture and have it over with.
Palais des Nations
Palais des Nations, the home of the UN offices
Geneva is the Palais des Nations, the home of the UN offices. UN has used Palais des Nations since 1946. According to Wikipedia 26 different UN agencies have their headquarters in Geneva so the UN presence is quite heavy. I find it ironic that the most important locality for the UN in Europe in in Switzerland. When United Nations was established as an organisation in 1945 Switzerland was not a member. Sweden became member of the UN quite early, in 1946, and has since then been an active member both in supporting UN financially and politically. Switzerland has as far as I know not been very active supporter of the UN and wasn’t even a member until 2002. So I sence that it might have been a mistake when they made Geneva, Switzerland a big headquarters for the UN. Maybe they meant Sweden instead of Switzerland? They ended up in Geneva, Switzerland when they meant Gothenburg, Sweden?
All of you who are not interested in particle physics should now probably scroll down to where I start to write about Montreux because I am about to geek for a while. I am going to write about CERN. CERN
My favourite in Geneva, other than CERN, was simply to walk along the waterfront along Lake Geneva. There this monumet, Monument Brunswick, could be seen
a laboratory, funded by 20 different states in Europe, specialised in research on particle physics. CERN was founded in the 1950-ies with the main purpose of becoming a research centre big and important enough to be able to compete with laboratories in the USA and other parts of the world. In the 1940-ies and early 50-ies the top researchers in Europe preferred to work for American universities rather than European ones because there were more money available in the States and the the research work conducted at US institutions was more challenging and interesting than anything in Europe. This caused a serious brain drain in the European science sector. By starting a top class research facility in Europe, CERN, the politicians and the universities hoped that more scientists would stay in Europe. Today CERN is without a doubt the most important research facility in the world in the field of particle physics.
Today the research at is concentrated around the Large Hadron Collider, the LHC, and the various experiments conducted using that accelerator. LHC is the largest and also the most powerful particle accelerator in the world. I am going to list a few impressive data about the LHC
Many of the houses along the lake are spectacular
and the largest of its detectors, the Atlas detector:
• LHC has a circumference of 27 km
• The LHC contains roughly 96 tonnes of liquid helium constantly kept at a temperature of -271 C.
• In the Atlas experiment beams of protons collide with each other. To make two protons hit each other has been compared with shooting two needles from opposite sides of the Atlantic and have them collide at the middle.
• About one billion proton-proton collisions occur in the Atlas detector each second.
• The theoretical amounts of data created by the collisions in the Atlas detector each second is 23×1015
bytes. To store that amount of data you need an approximately 7 km high pile of tightly packed DVD records. That's in one second...
• The actual amounts of data the Atlas detector is capable of collecting each second is about 5×1010
bytes. Such a large amount of data is impossible to store or analyze. Therefore computers select the most promising 0,2%!o(MISSING)f the data, which is stored for further analyses, and the rest is discarded immediately.
• The actual amounts of data recorded and kept for analysis
The L’horloge Fleurie, or the Flower Clock, is a large clock with thousands of flowers around it
each year in the Atlas detector: 3,2×1015
bytes. That is equivalent to a pile of DVD records roughly 1 km high.
Over the years the research at CERN has resulted in several important discoveries in the field particle physics, among them finding the W and Z bosons. But in order to build better and more powerful research tools the scientists and technicians have also made important technical achievements in other fields, mainly in computing. One of the most well-known technical solutions to have been born at CERN is a tool you are using right now namely the World Wide Web.
When I visited CERN I was given a tour by one of the scientists working there. The tour included a short film about CERN, an explanation of what the research is about and a film about the assembly of the Atlas detector. Building the Atlas detector was an impressive piece of engineering. The detector is 46 meters long and 25 meters wide and it is fitted in a rock cavern, 53 meters long and 35 meters wide, located 92 meters underground. To fit in the detector was very much like putting a ship in a bottle.
CERN is a laboratory, funded by 20 different states in Europe, specialised in research on particle physics
Since the LHC was fully operational at the time of my visit I could not visit any part of the accelerator or see any of the detectors, other than a disused bubble chamber that was part of an exhibition. However, next year they are going to shut down the LHC for upgrading. During that time tour groups will be allowed to visit the Atlas detector and possibly also see the accelerator. I am seriously thinking about going back then because it would be so cool to see that.
Geneva is situated at one end of Lake Geneva. At the other end is the town Montreux. Montreux and its surroundings is a popular holiday destination. But to my surprise this part of Switzerland seem to have an even deeper attraction to celebrities.
In Montreux the rock group Queen spent much of their time. They used to own a recording studio there and many of their songs were recorded there. Queen spent so much time in Montreux that the town has even erected a statue of Freddie Mercury next to Lake Geneva.
But Queen were only visitors to Montreux. Frequent visitors and they loved Montreux, but they never
Today the research at is concentrated around the Large Hadron Collider, the LHC. This is a picture of what the 27 km long tunnel where the LHC is located looks like
lived there. But there has been other celebrities who has gone further and made Switzerland their home. In Château-d'Œx, a small village not far from Montreux, British actor David Niven lived for many years. He is also buried there. In the town Vevey, very close to Montreux, British actor Charlie Chaplin lived for many years. Chaplin is buried in Vevey cemetary and in downtown Vevey there is a statue of him.
Near Montreaux is the castle Château de Chillon. The castle is known to have existed since the 13th century but some parts of it might be as much as 200 years older than that. Inside the castle the rooms, towers, courtyards and corridors together create a very complicated maze making a visit to the castle into quite an adventure. In one of the basements hundreds of visitors have written their names on the walls and the pillars. One of these visitors is Lord Byron who visited Château de Chillon in the early 19th century and later wrote a poem called the Prisoner of Chillon.
Finally I'd like to mention something very unexpected I saw at the Geneva airport. In most international airports you can shop. You can
Map showing all the various accelerators in CERN. Every time they planned a new generation of accelerators they made sure to incorporate the old accelerators.
buy alcohol, tobacco and sweets. Usually there are also shops selling products that are typical for the country you are in. In Switzerland it is therefore quite natural that you can buy Swiss watches. But to my great surprise I noticed that Victorinox, the maker of the Swiss army knives, has a shop at the airport. They were actually selling knives in the airport. They pick nail files and water bottles off people when they pass through security but inside the security they sell knives. I'd like to have someone explain the logics in that because I don't see it.
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