The Underground Tunnels of CERN

At a particularly lucky point in my life I had the honor of fulfilling an internship at CERN just outside of Geneva, Switzerland.  It was and still is, hands down, the best job I ever had.  I was surrounded by some of the smartest people on the planet working on some of the most fascinating projects in history.  Plus, and most importantly, the entire aesthetic of CERN looks like it came right from the game of Portal.

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And they friggen know it

Buildings look like they were designed in the 60s and I half expected Cave Johnson’s voice to come over the loudspeakers and warn me about mantis people.  The experiments and tech were top notch while being wrapped in this older, dated, sexy shell.  As a general note I recommend visiting CERN to anyone in Switzerland, they are free and you’ll see some science.  You can find that info here.

 

Anyway, I’m here to discuss a part of CERN that isn’t on the tours but is part of the culture there nonetheless.  Due to the older architecture of CERN or for some other reason I never bothered to ask about, there is a series of underground tunnels that network most of the campus together.  However, these tunnels are mostly unused except for storage and such and have become a place where interns and student workers go to explore.  There was even an amazingly low budget/campy zombie movie filmed here by some grad students, you can view it on their site here.  I strongly suggest watching that with a couple drinks.

Now I apologize for the quality of some of these photos as I did not have a great camera at the time but I’m going to take you on a little tour of these tunnels.

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This is generally what you would see walking around the tunnels

When you are down there there’s lots of old rooms with a variety of long forgotten equipment.  We found one office that didn’t have a piece of equipment from later than 1995.

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Good sign to find laying on the ground

You could also get into the buildings where current experiments were happening. A couple people that worked in the buildings showed us how to get there as generally people are good sports about these tunnels as long as you don’t bother them while they work.

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A workspace viewed from just coming out of the tunnel

A lot of times these tunnels were the absolute perfect set up for a horror movie(another good reason to watch the above linked movie).  Going into these tunnels alone could actually be pretty unnerving.

You will expect some creepy form of the Grudge girl to crawl at you from the blackness.  If you are down there too long you will start to see things.

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Look hard into the darkness, is anything looking back at you?
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The tunnels also could get pretty tight as you can see, adding a level of claustrophobia to the mix.
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The blurry aspect of this picture actually makes it a bit more creepy.

On the less creepy side, CERN and these tunnels in particular recognize their similarities to Portal and the Half-Life video games and some of the graffiti really embraces that fact.

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My personal favorite Portal graffiti, really sums up the vibe well

Someone left a GLADOS operating manual behind…

 

And there was maybe a dozen or so half life game symbols scattered around.

 

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Overall the graffiti was pretty top notch

The tunnels could also be used for relaxation, blowing off steam in a strange environment.  We constantly found evidence of this.

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I like to imagine this was a party for a bunch of frustrated physicist after a long day.

When I first started at CERN a student veteran showed me how to get to what was called “The Temple” which was a spot in the tunnels where interns and students ventured to leave a mark and see old marks past.  I don’t know how this spot originally became relevant but its legend has been passed from intern generation to generation.  This seems to get cleared out every 1-2 years though now, but the pilgrimages to it still continue.  I went so many times to show people I pretty much became a sherpa to this place.

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This was it when I was there…it is a bit underwhelming but that’s why you have a beer or 3 on the way.

 

We spent hours in these tunnels trying to find the most interesting or creepy spots we could.

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Or where we could lock our friends in…

Also depending on when you could find a hatch out of the tunnels it was a gamble if there was something interesting when you came out too.

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Our favorite spot to come out was this field where some sheep apparently grazed

One time we came out and there was an old piece of the LHC waiting to get taken away.

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This is why we can’t have nice things.

As far as getting into the tunnels as a non-intern or student.  Basically you have to become friends with them.  CERN has a number of open house days or you can venture to some of the cheaper bars in Geneva(if there are any) or just over the border in France there’s usually 1 or 2 hanging out.  You can also ask in the number of Facebook groups for them, usually they like to discuss the tunnels from my experience.  I’ll leave you with a few more picture gems and the hope that you will go visit CERN as it is still one of the most fascinating places I have ever been.

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Oh look a clear picture with a lot of incriminating faces

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