High-flying physics: Young pilot visits CERN

Pernilla Craig, one of UK’s youngest female pilots, saw CERN from deep underground and high in the sky on a visit last week


High-flying physics: Young pilot visits CERN

Young British pilot Pernilla Craig watches as early Web pioneer Robert Cailliau performs some pre-flight checks (Image: Steven Goldfarb)

Pernilla Craig earned her licence to fly last year aged just 17, making her one of UK’s youngest female pilots. A visit to CERN last week took her deep underground to see dectectors on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), and into the sky above the Alps for a bird's eye view of the laboratory.

"I find physics fascinating, and in a couple of years, I hope to return here and not just to visit," says Craig, who is heading to the University of Exeter to study physics.

An article about quarks and the LHC sparked her interest in physics, and her teacher recommended that she go to a workshop in Cambridge about CERN and the Standard Model. That's when Craig got hooked on particle physics.

CERN's Meyrin site from above. Note the Globe of Science and Innovation (Image: Steven Goldfarb)

Craig visited three of the LHC detectors – ATLAS, CMS, and ALICE. “All of them were breathtakingly brilliant, such a feat of engineering, and so different,” she says. The young pilot's jam-packed visit also took in the AMS Data Centre, the Low Energy Ion Ring (LEIR), the CERN Computing Centre, the Accelerator Control Centre (CCC), and the magnet testing facility. "To be here, to actually be here is awe-inspiring. This is such a special place and I’ve run out of adjectives to describe it," she says.

Robert Cailliau, one of the developers of the World Wide Web at CERN and also a licensed pilot, arranged with Geneva Flight Club for Craig to fly. On 4 September, she flew herself over Lake Geneva, CERN and the Alps, with Swiss flying instructor Aline Cosmetatos and ATLAS Outreach Coordinator, Steven Goldfarb. "ATLAS and CERN love to welcome young students to visit the facilities and to talk with physicists – although we unfortunately cannot arrange for them all to go flying," says Goldfarb.

A day later, Craig took a commercial jet back to England and her pursuit to become a physicist.