What an amazing trip! IICS DP Physics Teacher, Jaima Holland, and Communications Coordinator (and physics enthusiast!), Jennifer Gokmen, just returned from Geneva Saturday night with thirteen of our high school students who had one incredible experience. Roberto, Stepan, Mahmood, Jules, Alpay, Arudra, Shahmeer, Nihan, Ji Hun, Hiroki, Philipp, Roman, and Timur joined our first ever school trip to visit CERN, the largest particle physics laboratory in the world and home to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the biggest, most powerful particle accelerator on earth. 

It was a prime opportunity for IICS Physics students to get a firsthand view of one of humankind’s most massive feats of science and engineering… and to connect it to what they are studying in both Physics as well as Theory of Knowledge. It also fed the interest of students’ personal interests in physics, robotics, engineering, and ToK issues.  For instance, Grade 10 student Roman, who won a place at the International Summer School for Young Physicists at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (one of only 35 students chosen from among 3,000 applicants), will be creating his own accelerator this year for his MYP Personal Project. Grade 11 student Philipp, who is building his own quadcopter from scratch (including designing and producing his own circuit boards), joined the trip not for the physics, but to better investigate the complex engineering project that CERN is. All of our students on the trip exhibited impressive interest and knowledge and enjoyed the trip thoroughly, conducting themselves commendably! 

We spent a scant three days in Geneva and made every hour count, starting with a Physics lesson at the hotel the night we arrived, reviewing the Standard Model of particle physics and playing a word game based on counting protons and neutrons in elements. (How often do you see students so excited about Physics? Answer: Every class with Ms. Holland!)

The following day we spent eight fabulous hours at CERN. It was a long day filled with massive amounts technical information, which the students thoroughly enjoyed. 

Dr. Zhongliang Ren, who has been working at CERN since 1999, gave us an exceptional three and a half hour tour through the facility. Dr. Ren, who actually works on the Higgs experiments in the Atlas facility, was a wealth of information and was clearly quite passionate about his research. We were happy to see Dr. Ren’s enthusiasm mirrored in our students, who engaged him with relevant questions and discussion.

Multi-projector light shows across all surfaces in the Globe of Science and Innovation and in the Synchro-Cyclotron made the experience come alive in ways traditional museum exhibits can’t. It was mesmerizing and solidified student comprehension of difficult to grasp concepts.

In front of the Globe of Science and Innovation is the most elegant sculpture— a massive ribbon of metal chronologically inscribed with the major discoveries and innovations in science (and their authors) on one side and some of the most important formulas on the reverse. 

Our tour led us through a number of actual office building and workspaces of CERN employees. We even sat with them in the cafeteria (another awesome part of the experience!). Mounted throughout those places were monitors displaying the conditions of numerous elements that need to be constantly aligned and calibrated for the collider system to work properly. During our visit, the collider, which takes 45 minutes to prepare for operation, was in the process of being warmed up for the start of an acceleration.


The whole visit exceeded all expectations. After our awesome day at CERN on Friday, we had Saturday to de-brief and enjoy an afternoon in Geneva. Following breakfast in the hotel, we caught the bus to city center, found a nice lake-side park, and reflected on highlights from the trip….which prompted a great Theory of Knowledge discussion.

Some of the feedback the students had about the CERN experience:
–It was reassuring to see how all of the science and maths (and other subjects) culminate into real, global scientific efforts to answer big questions.

–Faith in humanity was restored seeing how thousands of scientists and technicians from all over the world collaborate in an open, productive way to work toward common goals/answers to questions. All resources and data are free and open to the public. What better way to be inviting?

–The fact that what is needed is actually being done at CERN… it makes the ‘future’ inventions and ‘next big things’ seem not so far off. Whether it is is about data collection and data distribution, computer modelling, engineering, or particle physics… everything is possible.

–An operational budget of 800 million Euros per year seems like a lot of money, but on a global scale, it’s quite reasonable and more humble than one may think.

–Seeing so many scientists and technicians of all kinds work at such a high level brought out more of an appreciation for dedication, hard work, and passion. For every physicist at CERN, there are about 8 or 9 other employees who are imperative to the process and equipment function. It truly takes a team effort to achieve great things.

CERN is funded by the member states and each member state contributes according to the GDP. That seems to be an equitable model.

Our students expressed genuine appreciation for the opportunities that they have. It was a pleasure traveling with them for this event and we hope this is the first of what will become an annual IICS Physics tradition. 

Jen Gokmen, Communications Coordinatorjaima