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Microcosm, 30 years telling CERN’s story

The last exhibitions of Microcosm recreated a behind-the-scenes tour of the lab, with realistic audiovisual content of scientists and engineers. (Image: CERN)

Microcosm has been a CERN exhibition space and outreach centre for the last 32 years. On 18 September, it will permanently close its doors in preparation for CERN's new flagship Science Gateway project, opening in 2023.

Microcosm first opened to the public in 1990, motivated by CERN’s duty – as a publicly funded organisation – to share its research openly, and also in recognition of the fact that there was a benefit for CERN in doing so. This was CERN’s first on-site permanent exhibition, offering a glimpse behind the scenes of the Laboratory to both tourists and schools alike. “The exhibitions in many ways bridge the gap between scientists working at CERN and members of the public,” says Emma Sanders, Head of Exhibitions at CERN. “They are a place to explore at one’s own rhythm all the exciting science and technology.” Over the years, the exhibitions have evolved considerably. The venue has also played a role in the life of the lab, such as by hosting the New Year ceremony for local dignitaries and presidential visits.

The inauguration of the "new" Microcosm is the subject of an article in the CERN Bulletin in September 1997. See this issue of the Bulletin at: https://cds.cern.ch/record/1726990. (Image: CERN)

The first version of Microcosm included an exhibition by the European Space Agency, highlighting the strong ties between CERN and other European research organisations, which continue today through the EIROforum network.

In 1997, CERN Director-General Chris Llewellyn Smith inaugurated a newly revamped exhibition with content in four languages and stories of new projects such as the LHC. Two years later, a new exhibition was added to Microcosm’s portfolio, telling the story of research on the weak force at CERN, with large pieces of the AA (antiproton accumulator) and of the UA1 and UA2 detectors.

The UA1 detector is installed in Microcosm in 1999. (Image: CERN)

The 2000s brought another revamp, bringing in hands-on experimentation for the first time and a demo area for science shows. “‘Drôle de physique ! was born, as well as the series of Lundi découverte events, running for four years and very popular with locals,” recalls Sanders. In 2014, S’Cool LAB arrived, home to the expanding programme of experimentation for high-school students and teachers. And in 2015, the latest version of Microcosm opened. The new exhibitions recreated a behind-the-scenes tour of the lab, together with realistic audiovisual content of scientists and engineers. The experience was a success, leading to an increase in visitor numbers and reaching a greater proportion of non-experts.

"What are we made of?", first hands-on exhibition in Microcosm, opened in 2000. (Image: CERN)

In recent years, Microcosm has also made great strides towards improving accessibility, with wheelchair-accessible design, signing and subtitling for the deaf and hard of hearing, and tactile content for the blind and visually impaired – an effort that will be continued and strengthened at Science Gateway.

“Microcosm has been strongly supported by many at CERN over the years,” adds Sanders. “I suspect I won’t be the only one to feel a little emotional on its closure, but we all look forward to the next step, with the opening of Science Gateway next June.”


Read also the "Word from Charlotte Lindberg Warakaulle" on the closure of Microcosm.