Large Hadron Collider exhibition review: Art and science collide with spectacular results at the Science Museum
A pocket version of probably the most complicated scientific machine on the planet on display
Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent and i. He has won many awards for his journalism, including five-times winner of the prestigious British science writers’ award; the David Perlman Award of the American Geophysical Union; four times highly commended as specialist journalist of the year in the UK Press Awards; UK health journalist of the year and a special merit award of the European School of Oncology for his investigations into the tobacco industry. He has a degree in zoology from the University of Oxford and has a special interest in genetics and medical science, human evolution and origins, climate change and the environment.
Tuesday 12 November 2013
OK, this is about the place where the very hot meets the intensely cold, where the big sits alongside the extremely small … and where science meets art. Collider is about some of the hardest yet most fascinating concepts in nature, distilled through the imaginative perspective of the human mind.
It’s not easy depicting something the size of the London Underground’s Circle Line, with magnets the size of a house, in a museum space not much bigger than a gym. And it’s just as hard to visualise the events that take place when one subatomic proton travelling at 99.9999991 per cent of the speed of light hits another travelling at the same speed in the opposite direction.
But it works. The Collider exhibition at the Science Museum gives a very decent impression of what it’s like to get up close and personal with the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern) in Geneva, probably the most complicated scientific machine on the planet.
If fact, in many ways it is better than the real thing. On the one occasion I actually went to Cern to see the massive circular tunnel where the machine would be built, I came away overawed and frankly confused by the sheer scale of the operation. In a way, it was just too big to take in.
Collider, on the other hand, is a pocket version of the real thing, something that you can absorb and digest without getting a headache at the end of it all. It is a superb introduction to the esoteric world of experimental particle physics.
Collider starts out with a short drama sequence written by playwright Michael Wynne, winner of an Olivier Award for his comedy The Priory.
The dramatisation begins with an actor playing the role of a Cern student who has to present the first definitive LHC results pointing to the existence of the Higgs boson, and finishes with Brian Cox playing a cameo role as Cern’s new boy “Brian”, asked by the control room staff to get the coffees in, which he does with a professional wince at the camera.
From here, the audience can wander at their own speed through a mock tunnel that represents the journey through the LHC, which in reality extends for some 27km underground. You can see the lab-bench notes, the calculations and diagrams that are grist to the brainy mills of the geeks at Cern.
Eventually, you end up in a circular space with a wrap-around screen where a computer-generated video sequence takes you through the LHC as if you were one of those protons travelling at 99.9999991 per cent of the speed of light.
The collision itself, based on real images from the LHC, appears like a magnificent post-modernist painting. Art and science really do collide, with spectacular results.
- 1 Stolen Instagram photo sells for $90,000
- 2 Before you complain about your GP, this is what you need to know about actually doing the job
- 4 'Don't blame all men for rape' campaign backfires spectacularly
- 5 Charlie Charlie Challenge explained: not a Mexican demon being summoned — it's gravity
UK's biggest male rape charity Survivors UK has state funding slashed to zero despite 120% rise in men reporting sexual violence and seeking help
Priest warns pupils the 'Charlie Charlie Challenge' is 'demonic activity'
'Don't blame all men for rape' campaign backfires spectacularly
Iran launches anti-Isis cartoon competition 'to expose true nature of Islamic State'
Fifa corruption arrests: Sepp Blatter 'quite relaxed' and confident he is 'not involved'
EU referendum: David Cameron's rules are a 'democratic disgrace', says French-born Scottish politician set to be denied a vote
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
Australian man punched in the face for defending Muslim women from abuse on train
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people
David Starkey 'tells Amal Clooney to shut up and stop over-promoting human rights'
£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity for a t...
£35000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global provider of call ce...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: By developing intimate relationships with inte...
£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A small rapidly expanding IT So...