CERN I Universe of Particles

CERN required a new attraction: the exhibition Universe of Particles designed by ATELIER BRÜCKNER. It becomes a starting point for the many thousands of visitors who arrive each year, curious about the unique underground particle physics experiments taking place under the French-Swiss border near Geneva.

While the LHC is operating, there is no public access to the experiments so the exhibition answers many of the visitors’ questions while also evoking a sense of wonder and awe at the remarkable scientific and engineering accomplishments and the mysterious worlds being revealed by the scientific work taking place at CERN.

Research at CERN is concerned with both the infinitely small and the incredibly large. The visitors experience a world without scale, at once both the sub-atomic level and at the vastness of the solar system. Entering the exhibition space, they enter another world. Here, nothing is recognizable from the world outside.

All of the spherical designed elements in the space appear seamless, perfect. Nothing is familiar or expected. The visitor sees no plasma screens or touch-terminals, no display cases or graphic panels. Instead they experience projections seemingly in space, 3D digital objects within spheres, and beautifully lit concealed artifacts are slowly revealed. Besides the spherical design, the uniformly neutral white color of the Corian surfaces and a swirling light circle at the base of every display is the connecting design language. It creates light shades which lift the displays out and let them float apparently freely in the room.


Studying the hundreds of millions of collisions that occur every second when the LHC is in operation is the central work of CERN, and so Collisions form the central display of the exhibition. Real data of the scientific experiments carried out in the world’s biggest particle accelerator are projected on an impressive scale in this display.

As the central theme of the exhibition, Collisions is at the center of the space. This puts the collision events conceptually and physically at the heart of the visitors’ journey. The single exhibition areas are arranged around it and are recognizable as thematic units by means of circular floor markings. Their interaction with regards to content is expressed in the principle of free flow. In an optional order, the topics Mysterious Worlds, LHC – Large Hadron Collider, Detecting Particles, Science without Borders and In Their Own Words can be explored.

To produce the image of seamless and limitless space, an innovative new kind of digital interactive installation has been developed especially for this exhibition. Instead of a traditional touch-screen using a flat panel monitor, a ‘touch-ball’ has been developed – a Corian-acrylic composite sphere with three-dimensionally curved touch interaction surface. Like traditional touch screens, these installations allow visitors to interact with a digital interface and access searchable information. Contrary to the traditional ones, here the content appears as if floating inside the sphere.

Spherical display cases were also developed as a way of integrating the display of objects into the context of the overall exhibition environment. CERN has a collection of fascinating exhibits, and these have been used to support the digital interactives and to provide an authenticity unique to the exhibition. All objects have been beautifully lit and presented as artifacts with stories to tell.

An Interactive Table forms the central element of the LHC theme. An aerial overview of the CERN site which provides the LHC and its various components is presented. It shows the size and complexity of the world’s largest particle accelerator.

In a very intuitive way, visitors are able to navigate around the site, opening up ‘windows’ into the earth to the underground world of the LHC. The circular, multi-touch surface allows up to 20 windows to be opened at any one time. Windows can be moved around the table and shared across the table with other visitors.

The Interactive Globe is a large installation that performs like a giant track-ball and which allows visitors to interact with digital content in a unique way - the user turns the ball physically and the projected content follows as if it were part of the ball. Forming the centerpiece to the Science Without Borders theme, the globe allows worldwide connections of CERN to be visualized and explored. Visitors are able to navigate around a projected earth to find their own countries, investigate their own universities, or see the contribution being made by their own citizens.


In the exhibition area In Their Own Words, the visitor can listen to CERN physicists, lean back in the black upholstered, cocoon-like inside of ball chairs. Scientists report in their mother tongue about the work at CERN and basic research questions which they are personally interested in.

Parallel to the individual tour through the exhibition, the Main Show offers collective access to topics. It is a spectacular event that punctuates the exhibition experience once every half-an-hour. The space comes alive with sound, programmed lighting and animated images projected around the circumference circular wall. The visitor is taken on an immersive journey from the Big Bang through the history of the universe to the present day work of CERN. The Main Show makes use of four linked, large-scale projection areas to surround the viewer in a three-dimensional experience. Particles move around the walls, data flies across the room from the almost 1:1 scale detectors.

The challenges of visualizing dark matter, anti-matter, the higgs particle, the early state of the universe and other such theoretical states have been impressively translated into a comprehensible, beautiful and captivating experience for the visitor. An emotional access to the often dry, scientific matter is made possible by means of film, sound and light choreography. The room becomes an exhibit in the end.

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