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TRIUMF | Vancouver, BC | Canada

View Blog | Read Bio

Leading the Mind

– By Jennifer Gagné, Web Publishing Coordinator

I have a new endeavour at TRIUMF — giving tours! I’ve been at TRIUMF for 2 ½ years now; just long enough for the “newness” to wear off, but not nearly long enough to know even half of what happens here, even as part of the communications team. Giving tours is absolutely fantastic! It’s my chance to see the lab through new eyes. I get to share in the excitement of seeing this visually-crazy, mind-expanding, totally-different-than-you-were-expecting place for the first time with visitors.

There really is something tremendous about visiting a high energy physics lab for the first time – I’m convinced there isn’t really anything out there that could prepare you for the menagerie of sights you’ll see. Except, I hear, seeing another physics lab. I’ve been told they’re the same the world over, and seeing pictures of other labs, I have to agree. It personally took me a full three months of working here before I could go behind the fence (to where the cyclotron and all the experiments are) and not be overwhelmed by the wires, the machines you won’t see anywhere else, and the beamlines that bring beams (particles that have been sped to high speeds) everywhere around the lab.

Last week, I had two groups at the two different ends of the age spectrum. The first group was our lovely neighbours down the street at Tapestry, the seniors living community, and a group of Grade 4 students, who showed up in matching uniforms, nametags, and notebooks full of questions. What I love most is rhythm of the tours – it seems to always be the same, regardless of age level or background. It starts with tentative curiosity (“I’ve heard this place was here, and it seems interesting, but I have nooo idea what they do here”), which quickly moves to a growing ‘wow’ factor as we see images of the cyclotron, play with the dancing paperclips, and they begin to get a sense of scale of what we do here (Huge machines, looking at teeny tiny little particles and reactions).

Near the end of the tour, mostly with adults, if we stop by DRAGON (an experiment that recreates the reactions that happen inside of supernova) and I give people a moment to breathe, questions will inevitably come up with questions nearly religious in nature: what’s out there? How did this all come to be? Essentially, the big questions we all ask at one time or another. To me, that’s the greatest reward. When people leave energized, excited, maybe still not quite sure what we do here, but they know it’s cool, they know it’s physics, I know that they have spent their time thinking about questions and ideas they likely would not have been thinking about during a regular day. It’s a fantastic transition from tentativeness to full out excitement and curiosity, and I’m so glad I get to be part of sharing off this crazy, mind-bending place called TRIUMF.

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