This February sees the launch of Collision: Stories from the science of CERN, the culmination of a unique, two-year-long collaboration between fiction writers and pioneering physicists.
As part of Comma’s Science-into-Fiction series, the project paired award-winning UK writers with leading physicists and engineers working at CERN, to explore different aspects of CERN’s research, as well as its historical legacies, through fiction and accompanying essays (or afterwords) by the scientists.
The project began in the Summer of 2021 when particle physicists connected to CERN around the world were invited to be part of a new European-wide public engagement project. Over 150 topic submissions from scientists working on different aspects of science were received. Writers were then invited to respond to the list of ideas and were paired with the physicists whose ideas inspired them. We were overwhelmed with positive responses.
Professor Rob Appleby, Professor of Accelerator Physics at The University of Manchester, helped edit the book and said: “This unique anthology brings together world class authors with the science of CERN. The resulting stories simply blow your mind.”
March 2022 saw a delegation of selected writers visit CERN in many cases meeting the physicists they’d been paired with. The delegation included science-fiction author Ian Watson (whose credits include the screen story for Spielberg and Kubrick’s film A.I.), BBC National Short Story Award winner Lucy Caldwell, and novelist and screenwriter Courttia Newland (who recently worked with director Steve McQueen on the award-winning Small Axe series).
The final group of writers include those on the CERN visit as well as Dr Who and Sherlock showrunner Steven Moffat (who’d visited CERN separately and set a previous episode of Dr Who at CERN), Dame Margaret Drabble, Stephen Baxter (winner of the Philip K Dick and John W Campbell Memorial Award), Adam Marek and others. In the months that followed, writers and scientists continued to work together, exchanging ideas, with the latter acting as consultants to make sure the science is accurately represented.
The project is supported by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) as part of HL-LHC-UK phase 2 and has been devised as a form of outreach to reach and inform new audiences about CERN’s work.
A decade after the discovery of the Higgs boson, CERN still lead the world in the search to uncover the secrets of the universe, how it was formed, and what fate may lie in store for it. If there is such a thing as a ‘cutting edge’, it surely lies 100 metres below the Swiss-French border at the point where the beams of the Large Hadron Collider meet.
As part of a unique collaboration (this is a first for CERN) this book has paired a team of award-winning authors with CERN physicists to explore some of the discoveries made there and the technology developed, through fiction and essays. From the possibilities of interstellar travel using quantum tunnelling to first contact with antimatter aliens, to a team of scientists finding themselves being systematically erased from history, these stories (and their accompanying afterword’s) explore the darkest of matters, under the brightest of lights.