[the first beam, courtesy of CERN]

The operations underground have begun, the first beams of subatomic particles have circumscribed their paths around the 17km tunnel deep beneath the Alps, both clockwise and anti– the world still stands. Only later in the year when the first high-energy particle collisions occur, will we have any chance of verifying the existence of the God particle, the Higgs boson.

This is not a post about physics, theoretical or otherwise, and is certainly not a post about science as we know it; all i wish for us to do together is marvel at a particularly striking example of the phemonenon of building underground, an anti-topographical case study in the sense of the surface no longer matters, landforms rendered meaningless as we travel down to view concrete, steel, superconducting magnets and beam pipes—

And this all contained in a 17km circumference underground tunnel which is, at some points, 175 metres below the surface of the earth. A tunnel underneath the Alps which crosses the Franco-Swiss border 4 times due to the work of 2,000 scientists from 34 different countries.

[the beam hitting the collimiters at point 5, courtesy of CERN]

This reminds me of a multitude of subterranean loci, including

  • the underground cities of Cappadocia (which contained a fair amount of agriculture, all things considered, and whither Christians fled Roman persecution);
  • the tunnels Mao had built under Beijing over twenty odd years when he was fearing Soviet attack. These tunnels actually stretch to other cities and come up under such varied locations as the Forbidden City and any number of Peking duck restaurants. Once completed, Soviet Russia attacked Afghanistan and so the tunnels were rendered virtually useless— now their presence causes newly constructed under-planned buildings to fall;
  • the underground city in odessa, ukraine. this place is striking since the buildings  above ground were constructed using the limestone dug out to create the dwellings below: a darkening-subterranean-mirror-image-of-sorts, although in fact a reversal of this, occupied space emptying upon reflecting in the surface of the earth, the full light of day becoming its very own negative with this downward shift.

[Cappadocia, the image telling of its own source]

And many more. What was the city of Balaklava, Ukraine, and is now part of Sevastopol was, under Soviet rule, a closed military base. Yes, it’s called Balaclava. Anyway, in 2006 my mum and i were walking around the base of a mountain there when a woman who claimed to have previously been a Soviet scientist approached us and asked us if we wanted to see the underground facilities. –sure– the eager and  adventurous tourists that we were. We were led through a small hole in the rockface and taken into what it then became strikingly apparent was  a military base carved into the underside of a mountain, in fact, a submarine factory opening underwater onto the Black sea: labs and sleeping quarters, narrow paths of rock with vertiginous ceilings, tracks carved into the ground for the smooth runnings of huge trolleys carrying spare submachinery. the women who led us around had been a Soviet scientist and now buys her bread  by asking the small number of tourists who reach Balaklava if they want to go underground…—

[the LHC viewed arially]