It’s one of the greatest games of all time. You clamber over pipes and through ducts. Cables of unclear electrical status dangle uncomfortably close to puddles of water. Tunnels lit by rudimentary emergency lighting lead on and on past a hissing steam pipe, then dripping water, then silence, until the darkness slowly reveals a moist and fleshy lump growing out of the ground.
The game is high energy physics, though there are a couple decades of decay between these scenes and active science. A few years back, shortly before the game Half-Life 2 came out, a group of us explored the little-traveled CERN tunnels recorded in the photos below. The resemblance to the original Half-Life–with its steam leaks, ventilation shafts, and dark corners hiding headcrabs–is uncanny (though my observations indicate that CERN’s dark corners are not fully populated). It’s a testament to Half-Life’s genius design and storytelling that the fantasy of Gordon Freeman’s life becomes so plausible in this real-life setting. It’s also a testament to the awesomeness of science!
High energy physics these days requires all the infrastructure of a large industrial facility with some extra loving attention paid to cryogenics, cables, and computing clusters. It’s amazing to think that these abandoned tunnels, pipes, and cables, though extensive, are dwarfed by the facilities still in operation and newly built for the LHC.
It’s almost enough to make a scientist wonder, “will this open a dimensional rift?” and as a backup, “where is the nearest crowbar?”