A smashing exhibition!

Dr Harry Cliff, Image Credit: Science Museum
Dr Harry Cliff, Image Credit: Science Museum

Our chummy science counterparts – the ArtScience Museum, gifted us a terrific opportunity to interview Dr Harry Cliff, one of the curators of the Collider exhibition – which makes its Asian debut on 14 Nov 2015! Dr Cliff also happens to work in CERN (the European Organisation for Nuclear Research) in Geneva where the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is buried deep under the border between Switzerland and France, in a project involving the work of 10,000 men and women across the world – united in a quest to uncover the building blocks of the universe.

Enjoy part one of our interview with Dr Cliff!

…On CERN and the Collider exhibition

How closely does Collider resemble the actual lab in CERN?

Dr Cliff: “73.61 +/- 15.32%. But seriously, the exhibition is a portrait of CERN, not an accurate reproduction. We never tried to recreate exactly what CERN and the LHC look like – that’s impossible in an 800 m2 exhibition space. But what the exhibition does do is capture the essential spirit and atmosphere of CERN, along with some of the spectacle and I hope, wonder.

What are the highlights of Collider?

“The highlight of the exhibition has got to be a beautiful 270 degree artistic interpretation of one of the giant particle detectors and the moment of a particle collision. You stand in a circular space surrounded by glowing lines produced as particles zoom out from the collision point. It’s stunning.”

…On the Large Hadron Collider

Display Screen of a Collision video in the exhibition, Image Credit: Science Museum
Display Screen of a Collision video in the exhibition, Image Credit: Science Museum

What is your favourite feature of the LHC?

“The LHCb experiment – a giant particle detector, packed full of ultra-high-tech microelectronics that allow us to record what happens when two protons smash into each other. I’ve been working on LHCb for seven years now, and it’s made some really exciting discoveries and tested our theories of physics to breaking point. Fingers crossed some new exciting developments will come out of it in the next couple of years.”

How has the LHC affected our understanding of the universe?

“The LHC has already had a big impact on our understanding of nature. We now know that the Higgs boson exists, which means we understand why fundamental particles have mass. In the next few years we hope that the LHC may shed light on some of the biggest mysteries in science. Questions like: what is the nature of dark matter? And: why is the universe made of matter and not antimatter?”

What would happen if I put my hand in the Hadron Collider?

“You’d get a stern telling off, a very painful hole in your hand and most likely a lethal dose of radiation.”

…On Personal Matters

Exploring the Corridors of CERN, Image Credit: Science Museum
Exploring the Corridors of CERN, Image Credit: Science Museum

Tell us about your experience curating the content of this exhibition.

“It was great fun, and a huge challenge. Particle physics may be thrilling but it can seem intimidating to a non-expert. We had to overcome visitors’ natural fear that they wouldn’t be able to understand what the LHC was or what scientists there are trying to do. In the end we decided the best approach was to recreate a visit to CERN.

“Learning about particle physics in abstract doesn’t always make sense, but if you could get as close as possible to the experience of visiting CERN, seeing the experiments and meeting the scientists and engineers who work there, we felt you had a chance to get excited, and what’s more to understand it.”

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Look out for part 2 of this interview and an exclusive 1-1 with Dr Cliff! 😉

We’re deeply grateful to the ArtScience Museum – Sarah Tang and Dawn Wang for connecting us to Dr Harry Cliff, the curator of the Collider Exhibition which opens at the ArtScience Museum tomorrow and runs till 14 Feb 2016.

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