Explaining the LHC to the kids

A bowl of weetbix with golden syrup.  A plate of strawberry jam on toast.   Perfect setting for a discussion current world events and science.

I asked the kids, “Do you know what the LHC is?”.

Quizzical look.

“Has anyone school talked abou the LHC or did you see anything on Behind the News?”

“No.”   (What are you going on about Dad???)

“These people in Europe have built a big machine called the Large Hadron Collider“, I started, not knowing how to continue.

“It smashes things together.”


“What happens when you smash things together really fast?”

Our 7yo replies, “They get flat?”

I already sense this is not going very well.

“How about if they’re made out of lego?  They’ll break apart and all the lego blocks would come apart.   That’s what these people are trying to do.  They’re smashing things together to see what they’re made out of.”

Then I thought it might be worth bringing atoms into the equation.

“Everything we see and touch, is made of little building blocks called atoms.  The people are trying to smash these together.”


“They want to see what’s inside.  And maybe see if God exists.”

Quizzical look.  OK, I don’t think I’ll go down that path.  Too complicated. Then I thought I’d talk about the size of it.

I make a circle with my arms and run around in a circle.  “The machine is one big tube that goes round like a doughnut.  Actually, the tube is so big that a bus can drive in it.   The things inside will go round and round, faster and faster, one going one way, the other thing going the other way, until they smash together”, I describe while trying to simulate this with my arms.  I feel like a cowboy.  I feel like a fool.

“Won’t the bus come off the track?” asks my 7yo.

“No, they’re not smashing buses together, they’re smashing the little building blocks that make up buses.”
“There were also some people who were scared that the whole world would disappear.”

Quizzical look.

Our 7yo had got up and gone to brush her teeth and brush her hair.

I gave up.  In the car on the way to school, I ask my 9yo a question to see if she made sense of anything we discussed in the morning.

“So, T, what does the LHC do?”

“It smashes things together.”

OK, that will do for now.

Meanwhile, I came across this link with a live webcam view.


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