Set in Swiss woodland at the CERN site, the new centre is designed to be a bridge between science with the outside world.
CERN is opening its doors to welcome more visitors than ever with a brand new visitor centre capable of welcoming half a million guests every year.
Chiefs at the European Organization for Nuclear Research - CERN’s official name - say improvements were needed to better welcome the tens of thousands of tourists who flock to its entrance near the French-Swiss border every year.
"With the Science Gateway, we want to expand the opportunities for scientific education that we offer to the public," explained CERN Director-General Fabiola Gianotti.
Famed architect Renzo Piano, a friend of Gianotti and fellow Italian, helped design the structure which was inaugurated this week.
Inspiration from CERN scientists at work
The new Science Gateway centre is powered by solar panels and nestled in a wooded area.
It features two connected tubes up in the air, an allusion to the underground tubes where the lab’s experiments take place.
It also features a transparent glass design and a bridge - to symbolise openness and links to the big and the small elements. It houses laboratories, exhibition areas, and also an auditorium.
Drawn to the project, Piano says he took inspiration from the work being done at the facility.
"So, I came to CERN, I went around, down in the large collider. I talked to people, I talked to scientists, and then [it] became clear that those people needed a bridge: a real one, but also a metaphorical one, connecting the world of a scientist with the outside world".
Piano says he was "touched" by the “incredible" work of CERN scientists exploring everything from the tiniest atomic particles to the Big Bang, which helps to understand "that the Planet Earth is a little spaceship on which we are all of us embarked".
One major goal of the new centre, Gianotti says, was "to infuse everyone who comes here with curiosity and a passion for science and inspire young people to take up careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics".
"So, we study the very, very small to understand the very, very big – the structure and evolution of the universe".
Understanding the universe
CERN, whose giant particle accelerator runs a 27-kilometre underground loop through tunnels around Geneva, made international headlines in 2012 after its scientists confirmed the until-then-theoretical "Higgs Boson" – which some dubbed the "God particle" and the central piece of a complex puzzle known as the Standard Model of particle physics.
"The main goal of the science that we do at CERN is to understand the smallest constituents of matter and of the universe," explained Gianotti.
CERN scientists are now running experiments to try to find cracks in it and explain mysteries like why Dark Matter exists - and makes up 25 per cent of the universe, using the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator.
Last year began increasing the intensity of energy in experiments, using highly powerful magnets to run atoms through its subterranean tubes to cause collisions and study the results – generating reams of data about how particles behave.
CERN is preparing a multi-year, multi-billion-franc project to build a "Future Circular Collider" with a 100-kilometre circumference tunnel next to the current one.
Hopes are for a start to operations in 2040.
The Science Gateway project was conceived in 2018 and groundbreaking took place on the 100 million Swiss francs (about $110 million) project just over two years ago.
Previously, CERN welcomed 150,000 tourists a year – but requests were double that. The Science Gateway will balloon capacity to 500,000, says Gianotti.
Entry will be free and opening times run from Monday to Saturday.
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