I’ve just learned a really interesting thing about CERN and, in particular, the dome-shaped exhibition space across the road from the offices.
I’m reading a book called Nothing – A Very Short Introduction by Frank Close, a professor of physics at Oxford.
He writes that the dome structure – “le globe” – used to be part of another Swiss exhibition. When they were finished with it, they offered it to CERN instead of just breaking it up.
But CERN wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. One scientist, apparently, suggested that it be kept as an empty space, as a metaphor for the nothingness of an atom. Better still, they dreamed up the idea of suspending a single ball – 1mm in diameter – in the middle of le globe to represent the nucleus, with the walls of the building representing the outer limits of the atom. Laser beams could play on the walls to represent the ebb and flow of the electrons.
So the author asks:
“Suppose that the radical suggestion had been adopted, and you had travelled across Europe with the aim of experiencing the mysteries inside the atom, paying your entrance fee, going inside the wooden ball and finding – nothing: would you demand a refund or feel that you had been exposed to a great truth?”
Personally, I think we all had a lucky escape!
…they dreamed up the idea of suspending a single ball – 1mm in diameter – in the middle of le globe to represent the nucleus
Thanks for sharing this, Andy… I had no idea about the history of “le globe“. Actually, I think this idea would have been quite fun… well, fun for a minute or two, as you wandered in and then straight out of the building again! Trying to visualise anything on the atomic scale is incredibly difficult… atoms are, after all, mostly empty space… so this idea is not as bonkers as it sounds. However, it’s not very exciting, is it?
That said, plenty of artists have made use of big empty spaces and put very little in them. Perhaps Martin Creed could have installed his Turner Prize winning “the lights going on and off“. That would have held me on the room for, errrr, at least another 5 seconds 😉
Gosh, Mike, I was half-expecting a mathematical analysis of how the 1mm ball would have to be much smaller than that given the measurements of le globe, coupled with a critique of the use of lasers to represent electrons. Got that Friday feeling? Or did the CERN guys get their measurements right while contemplating l’art minimaliste? 😉
Actually, I think their measurements are pretty much spot on!
For a hydrogen atom, the diameter of the nucleus is about 1.75 x 10^-15m (1.75 femtometres!). The diameter of a hydrogen atom is 1.1 x 10^-10m (1.1 Angstroms), making the atom about 60,000 times bigger than the nucleus.
If the single 1mm ball represents the size of the nucleus, then the corresponding size of the atom would be about 60 metres across. According to this, the dome is 40 metres wide. So, not far off, and probably more accurate for heavier atoms where the difference in size would be smaller (e.g. for uranium, apparently, the factor is only 23,000).
There… feeling happier now 😉
And the old, familiar Mike is back! 😀
And the old, familiar Mike is back!
Well, I hate to disappoint my fans 😉
I was, until recently, a patron of the Tate Gallery… not just a science geek, you know!
Old Tate, Modern, or is it a package deal?
All 4 – Britain, Modern, Liverpool and St Ives.
My attempts to link to the Royal Observatory Greenwich Facebook page have failed miserably – but never mind. Here’s the ink that’s the reason for trying in the first place – the BBC news story about CERN’s 60th anniversary: 60 years in 60 seconds.
Be warned: the ‘music’ track is truly awful.
Here’s CERN’s own birthday page: http://home.web.cern.ch/about/updates/2014/09/cern-turns-60-celebrates-peaceful-collaboration-science
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