CERN: Beyond physics

As the first busy week of the programme drew to its close, we left the IMD campus to learn more about two of our most distinguished neighbours in the Geneva area ecosystem, EPFL and CERN.

Despite the accumulated sleep deprivation of some of us, the whole class sat peacefully in two buses on Friday morning at 6:30am, heading to explore more about biotechnologies and particle collisions. As my cohort Joyce will write on her experience with EPFL in a separate post, I am going to share my insights on the visit of CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, home of the Large Hadron Collider. Prior to I doing so, I have one testimony to make – coming from economics/social science background, I have never been particularly interested in physics, let alone particle physics. Yet the three and half hours spent at the centre and the on-site tour genuinely raised my curiosity, and at the end of the visit, not only me, but the whole group bombarded our guide with various questions about accelerators, colliders and applications of the research.1T2B9146


The visit started with general introduction to activities of CERN. We learnt about its central mission, which is conducting probing and research on fundamental particles of matter to increase our understanding on origins of universe, and about the major participants of the research. In the second part of the presentation, the broader ambition of CERN was outlined to us. CERN was instituted to bring together and train scientists from all over the world to develop new technologies for accelerators and cater for technology and know-how transfer. For the purpose of the latter, the Ideasquare was established – a test bed for new ideas and concepts that may have a beneficial impact on a society. Given the entrepreneurial mindset of most us and the close link between idea incubators and start-ups, many questions were raised related to success factors of prototype development, consumer testing and evaluation of business potential.

During the following tours of the facilities, knowledgeable guides explained the technical part of fragmenting of the particles, various stages of accelerating up to the speed of light and the final colliding. We had the opportunity to see the actual technical equipment of Ion Rings and Synchrocytrons and on showcase models understand the principles of beam direction.


Another part of the visit led us to the premises of CERN’s data center which, with a capacity of around 200 Peta Byte, is one of the biggest in the world. Among the exhibits, a disc platter the size of a tire captured my attention. Back in 1974, this platter was able to store 10MB of data, an insignificant fragment of what we now carry in our pockets.


Discussions with my colleague brought me to pondering: why do we invest enormous amounts of money in building such facilities as CERN and run millions of experiments over and over again; is it curiosity, hunger for research fame, or demonstration of science? We came to the conclusion that it is our endeavor as humans to learn more about our world, about us. Here at IMD we are also in a testing lab. We came to push ourselves out of our comfort zone, to experiment, to discover the unknown about ourselves. All this in an environment of high diversity and various levels of affinity to such experimenting.  The introduction session to leadership yesterday confirmed the importance of such undertakings. If we know and understand ourselves, we can better understand others. And ultimately become better leaders. I am profoundly looking forward to being one of the guinea pigs, getting frank feedback, coaching and psychoanalysis; I am looking forward to collide and accelerate, collide and accelerate, again and again. Because these IMD experiments deliver a certain result – a life-time enrichment.



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