“I don’t visualise the Higgs boson particle. For me it is just a byproduct of a theory that is significant,” observed Peter Higgs, the 84-year old Nobel Prize winner for Physics, 2013. He was addressing journalists at the opening of the London Science Museum’s new exhibition on the Large Hadron Collider. “So you can visualise it anyway you want,” he said.
And visualising this watershed event in science is what the exhibition “Collider: step inside the world’s greatest experiment” does. Melding imagination and science, the exhibition takes the visitor through the story of the LHC experiment conducted at CERN (the European Organisation for Nuclear Research) where Professor Higgs’ theory of the Higgs boson particle was tested and proved.
Described by Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum Group as “most significant of any science exhibition anywhere in the world, and a major cultural event,” Collider is science communication at its best; an evocative and avant-garde multimedia offering in which scientists from CERN and the London science museum, creative designers, a playwright and video artists contributed, the exhibition will be open till early May.
“With this exhibition we are going where we have not gone before … into meaty, real science,” said Dr. Blatchford, adding it was the close collaboration with CERN and a diverse creative team that brings the exhibition alive.
While praising the exhibition, Professor Rolf Heuer, Director-General of CERN, referred to the egalitarian and democratic spirit and work ethic of CERN that contributed to the success of the LHC experiment, on which a 10,000-strong multinational team worked.
From an innovative video installation in which CERN scientists and engineers introduce the significance of the Large Hadron Collider experiment, with many a digression in irony and wit (“It is not the God particle, but the Goddamned particle,” an exasperated scientist exclaims), the visitor is led into the bowels of the experiment to be shown the working of its innards. Virtual scientists and engineers from CERN take breaks from their work to speak about their role in the experiment. Actual LHC artefacts are displayed, as in a 2-tonne part of the 15-metre high magnets that direct particle beams, which are then revved up and guided to culminate in the explosion of particles.
The highlight of the exhibition is the dramatic and almost cosmic visualisation of the outcome of this grand experiment. Screened on a circular wall, the soundless 3D video sequence in just two captivating minutes takes the viewer through the apparatus of the experiment and its essential stages until two particles, visualised as dancing balls of pulsating light, collide in an eruption of colour and energy. And like lava from an eruption, flows knowledge represented here as streams of data. The curating team includes Alison Boyle, Science Museum Curator of Modern Physics and Harry Cliff, Science Museum Fellow of Modern Science.