by Iva Raynova. Published: 10 November 2015

When it comes to presenting science to non-scientific audiences, you often expect this to happen in laboratories or in academic institutions, where people can observe how research is being done in real time while experts give them simplified explanations. This year CERN decided to take a slightly different approach and took science to a place where people would not expect it to be – in a shopping centre.

The POPscience project, a part of the European Researchers’ Night 2015 for the Geneva region, took place in Balexert shopping centre on the 25th of September. The programme was a unique blend of science, cinema, comics, poetry, music, games and encounters with artists and scientists. The main goal of POPscience was to bring together the general public and the exciting world of research and to show that science is fun and accessible to everyone.

The main event included encounters and book signings with various comics creators, demonstrations about the states of matter with liquid nitrogen, balloons, marshmallows and magnets, as well as games for children, such as Build your own particle detector with LEGO and the Ask a researcher activity. Throughout the whole day Balexert’s visitors could observe the transformation of the chaos made from the 600 million collisions per second inside ATLAS into a beautiful symphony and then take a journey at 100 meters underground to discover the wonders of the CMS experiment in direct virtual visits.

In addition, poets and young researchers from the EDUSAFE “Marie Curie” project were trying to give an answer to the question “Is there science in poetry and poetry in science?” with the help of delicious madeleines poétiques.

In the cinema, more than 500 children attended the four school sessions, where they learned what the main purpose of the LHC is and what light is made of. After sunset, more than 600 people came in for the late night discussions (some of which were via live video conferences) with ESA astronauts Luca Parmitano and Roberto Vitorri, theoretical physicists Lawrence Krauss and Kip Thorne and many CERN experts. Altogether they revealed the science behind four Hollywood blockbusters: Interstellar, Star Trek, Angels and Demons and Gravity, and talked about the funny side of physics and the life of researchers, as portrayed in The Big Bang Theory series and in The PHD Movie.

For a spectacular conclusion of the Researchers’ Night there was an exclusive screening of Particle Fever, the award-winning documentary about the quest for the Higgs Boson at CERN and the world of physics, preceded by an exceptional encounter with Fabiola Gianotti, CERN’s next Director-General, Martin Aleksa, physicist for the ATLAS experiment, Mike Lamont, head of LHC operations, and Mark Levinson, the director of Particle Fever.

Except for the Night itself, CERN also had organized several pre-events, in which people had the chance to meet ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano, Nobel Prize laureate in literature Gao Xingjian and Amalia Ercoli Finzi, one of the main researchers for ESA’s Rosetta mission, while an interactive LHC tunnel and a table full of LEGO particle detectors at Balexert’s main hall were taking care of children’s entertainment.

The European Researchers’ Night is an event, funded by the European commission, which happens simultaneously in more than 300 cities all over Europe every year on the last Friday of September. It is fully dedicated to popular science and all the organizers throughout Europe try to create engaging ways of showing to the general public how researchers actually contribute to society and also that science is fun and interesting.