Infinite at top speed

Since 2009, the Seine-Saint-Denis County Council has been backing “la Culture et l’Art au Collège (CAC)”. This project is based to a large extent on the presence in class for several weeks (40h) of an artist or scientist whose mission is to engage the students in a process of research and creation. 


Tutors: Sophie Houdart/ anthropologist

Project manager: Anna Mezey


Based on close collaboration with the CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, this project gives the pupils an opportunity to discover the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which, with its 27 km of tunnels 100 metres underground, is the world's biggest and most powerful particle accelerator. The project helps the classes to understand how the LHC tries to solve the mysteries, not only of the infinitely small, but also of the very first instants of the universe. The pupils are accompanied in this task by Sophie Houdart, an anthropologist of science, and make a special trip to the site in Geneva.

The field raises major questions so the project was divided into three sections: LHC, the big machine; LHC and its scientific discourse; LHC and its environment. In addition, in one of the two classes working on this project, the pupils were issued with a digital tablet (iPad) with special applications, so they could communicate with the tutor, teacher and the other pupils at all times. The tutor used the application "iTunes University" to send the pupils exercises and documents so they could prepare each session.

An anthropology of the LHC?
The first question discussed in class was: Why and how does anthropology approach science? And how can we observe the CERN? Once the basic ideas were mapped out, the tutor guided the pupils towards the notion of a cosmology. A cosmology, as anthropologists understand it, is a system for representing the world. Many subjects were discussed and illustrated in class, such as the LHC’s scientific practices and the idea of experimenting with and observing something that exceeds our understanding: the cosmos.

At Meyrin
The two days on the Meyrin site brought the class into contact with the CERN and its environment. The pupils used the "research protocol" they had prepared in class to take notes, record images (photos, video, drawings), and collect documents (site plan, organisational chart, etc.). Special care was taken over meeting various staff members (question and answer sessions). The iPad was used to group the various tools used in the survey.

Back in class
The pupils pooled their information and wrote a structured report on their experiences at the CERN. The themes that emerged from their observations were: international collaboration, different jobs, beams and captors, machines, paths and light, etc...By comparing the CERN and UNO, which they also visited, the pupils had an opportunity to understand points in common between these two institutions which are both able to offer a unified image of the world.

Using what they had gathered in the course of the project, the pupils designed several visual aids to present their survey. They were shown on iPads within the school. 


- Two-day visit and survey at the CERN (European Organisation for Nuclear Research) in Meyrin (Switzerland) and to the UNO in Geneva.

Participatings schools:
- Class (3rd) Collège Jaurès, Pantin
- Class (3rd) Collège Camille Claudel, Villepinte

Infinite at top speed
Infinite at top speed
Infinite at top speed