Every few years, CERN opens its doors to the general public. The last “Open Days” took place in 2008 before the LHC startup. The present long shutdown of the CERN facilities provides an ideal opportunity to continue this tradition, which is essential in establishing trust in the local communities as well as giving the public at large the opportunity to visit areas of CERN that are not normally accessible.
The CERN Open Days will be over the weekend of 28 and 29 September. From past experience CERN expects about 50,000 visitors on each of the two days. Visitors are free to roam around the CERN campus where they can visit many of the workshops, control rooms and service stations at CERN, including the CLIC test facility, the proton and ion linacs and the antiproton decelerator. There will be a fun zone with a show of simple and amusing experiments, many of them bordering on the magical, in which many physical phenomena are demonstrated in a fun way. There will also be a music festival organised by the CERN Jazz and Music Clubs.
A great attraction will, of course, be a visit to the underground areas. Here the organisational structure must be much tighter in view of the strict controls on safety, radioprotection and the sheer logistical nightmare of moving people up and down the shafts. The four LHC detectors will all be accessible as well as certain areas of the LHC ring, including the beam dump area where the beams are extracted from the machine at the end of a run, and the straight section at Point 4 of the machine which houses the superconducting cavities for acceleration. The acceleration section of the Super Proton Synchrotron will also be accessible. Access to these underground areas will only be allowed on a pre-registration basis; tickets for visits have been distributed via the Open-Day website.
There will also be a number of short presentations and public lectures on science and society, explaining the work we do and also its impact on society and culture in general. I will be giving two lectures, in English on Saturday and French on Sunday in order to try to reach as wide a possible audience in explaining our work.
Dealing with so many people is a monumental task in itself. We have more than 2,000 volunteers from the laboratory staff and visitors who are prepared to give up their weekend in order to make this a success. From past experience we know that it will be hard work. But it will also be fun! Let us pray for good weather this weekend.
Open Days are not only a tradition at CERN, but at all other accelerator and physics labs around the world. KEK has just successfully held its Open Day on 8 September, welcoming about 4300 visitors, and the next one up is at DESY on 2 November, where linear collider technology and detector development will play a major role. From talking to the visitors we know that they enjoy the possibility to have a look behind doors that they normally cannot enter and are impressed with the openness and enthusiasm of the volunteering staff. They may not understand every word that they hear -– but they feel that we are excited about and convinced of what we do. Let’s keep this tradition up for the next generation of particle physics labs!