‘Cosmotron’, ‘Bevatron’, ‘Proton Synchrotron Booster’ and also CERN’s well known ‘Large Hadron Collider’ (LHC) – particle accelerators aren’t just gigantic machines (the LHC is 27km in diameter and currently the largest machine on earth) but they also have supercool, cryptic names. While their names are already quite incomprehensible, it’s even a greater mystery what happens inside them: Because there’s basically nothing to see. This is a bit counterintuitive, as the purpose of most particle accelerators is the observation of the behavior and nature of particles. The reason for this invisibility-problem is that the particles which those machines accelerate are unfortunately too tiny to be seen with the bare eye.
Scientists have recognized this problem and found a clever workaround: They have built other huge machines, just to detect the accelerated particles. Those machines seem to be quite complicated, as they consist out of several subdetectors, which have again very cryptic names. LHC’s ALICE detector, for instance, is comprised out of devices called a ‘Silicon Pixel Detector’, a ‘Photon Spectrometer’, and even a ‘Time Projection Chamber’, which sounds like it comes straight out of the imagination of a science fiction pulp magazine writer.
So let’s face it, most particle accelerators are toys for just a handful of geeks with very special interests, and far away from entering the mass entertainment market. They are too big and too complicated. And although they do a pretty good job in accelerating particles, they fail to provide a joyful observation experience due to their minute size. There’s just one exception: Electrostatic electron accelerators, also known as cathode ray tubes, did manage to entertain some common folks in the last century. Today, they’re outdated – but that’s a whole different story.
As I’m a fan of science and physics in particular, I find it a pity that the current particle accelerators make the observation of the little speedy particles so complicated. This should be something that a broader audience can enjoy! So when the Director of the Tschumi Foundation approached me and asked me if I’d like to build a machine inside their beautiful pavilion located in the center of a roundabout in Groningen, I saw my chance: I decided to construct a machine which would bring the tremendous joy of particle acceleration to everyone!