Posts tagged water

Upside down water fountain

Sweaty summer


If you not going to holiday for the entire month of August on a Greek island then the policy at CERN is that you must sweat until you change your mind. Building 40, where the ATLAS and CMS experimental offices center, has a beauty of a glass dome that turns to beast for 30 minutes every day as you are revealed, Indian Jones style, as the site of the lost ark. Fusion powered theatrical lighting is what we are talking about, in your face. And, the architectural trajectory is not a positive one: a new building, 42, adjoining and expanding on the offices of 40 deals with the heat like sawdust deals with vomit, soaking it up and becoming 100 times as gross.

Building 42 wedges itself on a hillside at the perimeter of CERN, gazing off toward incredible views of a horse training field and vineyards. Its brilliance is the wall of southwest facing windows that soak up the 1000 W/m^2 of bone softening heat from the afternoon sun.  This is a good plan in the winter, but the light bulb above your head wilts to a blob of silica and tungsten in the summer. We physicists put our money into high field gradient RF cavities, not air conditioning (at least in these parts). Those shades you see in the photo above operate automatically to prevent the building from technically killing anyone. But, when you are trying not to let your sweat short out your stock Dell keyboard which leaves black spots all over your desk from it’s molten rubber feet, are you really living?

Oh, and look, in the hall is our savior, the water cooler. (A substantial breeze of hot air expanding out into the hallway almost blows you here.) You are going to need at least a few glasses an hour to keep the salts in your blood from crystallizing as the afternoon heats up. But glasses you say? What is that? Such things don’t exist in this part of the world. The spring-loaded cup dispensers on every last one of these gray spigots are fully sprung. The are effectively upside-down water fountains.

Also, don’t even think about getting your own glass from the cafeteria, “IT IS STRICTLY FORBIDDEN TO REMOVE CROCKERY, GLASSES OR CUTLERIES FROM THE RESTAURANT AREA.” OK, I’ll admit disposable cups are also available, but a 10 minute round trip just to acquire a disposable cup just doesn’t feel right.

Anyway, the heat is tappering off for the moment. Let’s hope the transition to mild autumn weather is a long and lingering one.

Cisterns directly above toilets

Dripping liquid on head after urinating: Toilet Design Awards 2010


Recently I “drained the dragon” in one of CERN’s plumbing-oriented establishments, choosing a urinal as my preferred receptacle of the day. As I looked down, flushed, and set about the generally onerous task of negotiating my considerably out-sized family jewels back into their boxers, I felt liquid dripping onto the back of my head. Leaping back, I looked up in shock and terror to see that

  1. each urinal has its own tank (I’m told this is called a cistern),
  2. each cistern is mounted on the wall directly above the urinal,
  3. there is apparently no cover for the cisterns, allowing what I hope to God is clean water to slosh out.

I always thought that, even if they are clean (and I’m not convinced of that), toilet-related liquids should be kept inside pipes, and under lids, as close to the ground, and as far away from my head as possible. Just another preconceived notion smashed by CERN plumbing innovation.

cutting-edge water conservation system

CERN’s new water conservation initiative


Working at a world-class institution like CERN is tremendously exciting. As you might assume, not only does CERN lead the world in particle physics, its general infrastructure is also top-notch and maintained by a tireless team of highly dedicated individuals. On a daily basis, you see the same incredible human ingenuity and generous financial resources used to probe the building blocks of matter also being put to use for more mundane things like plumbing. On a recent trip to the toilet, I discovered a bold new water conservation initiative apparently underway. And boy, does it work!


I ... think I'm done washing now.

First I should tell you a dirty little secret about myself. I can be a bit of a glutton, and sometimes this gluttony gets into the realm of wastefulness. One of the forbidden pleasures I allow myself is the use of warm water for hand-washing. Please don’t think I’m such a bad person, it just feels so warm and comfy, and when nobody is watching I just love it. Well, the CERN water engineers are far too clever for reprobates like me! They’ve installed a system whereby the warm water starts out clear but slowly turns yellow, until it is the color of unhealthy urine. Well let me tell you, I shut that hot water faucet off pretty quick! Some people like me never learn, but when your hands are covered in what is probably urine, you start to catch on! Although, I’ll be honest with you – and this is kind of embarrassing – the urine-based warning system has been in full production for several months and yet I still fall back to my old ways.

cutting-edge water conservation system

cutting-edge water conservation system

The story is not over though, because I hadn’t learned my lesson yet. I turned on the cold water and went right back to enjoying myself, getting all that soap off my hands, and I’ll admit, basking a little too long in the cooling water massage. I was so focused on my own pleasure that I didn’t immediately notice the warning signal, in the form of a splashing sound over and above the normal splashing from the sink. Well, I ignored that warning and I finally got the punishment I deserved. I suddenly realized my feet were soaking wet and my gorgeous Italian leather shoes were ruined. Because, get this, the water was going straight out through the drain onto the floor! Brilliant! This time I finally got the message.

I shut that water off immediately and will think very seriously about how often I wash my hands from now on. I can’t begin to imagine the level of sophisticated Swiss engineering needed to implement such an advanced water-conservation system, but CERN is obviously willing to shell out some big money to make it happen. Kudos to them! Hopefully I can be a better world citizen and steward of our precious natural resources from now on.

stairway descending to the lavabo

An inexplicable scene in the lavabo

stairway descending to the lavabo

stairway descending to the lavabo

Restaurant 1 (R1) is the main CERN “restaurant” (but let’s be honest here, it’s a cafeteria). Around the corner, underground, is a lavabo, a beautiful French word meaning “toilets.” I hopped down the stairs and breezed in to what is probably the largest men’s room at CERN, heading for the urinals, when my nonchalant progress was checked by a considerable pool of water covering the entire floor. As I re-assessed my surroundings, I saw a 10-year old boy holding a baby on his arm while standing at the urinal.

My eyes processed this scene quickly; I felt confusion, then looked again to make sure the boy wasn’t a woman, as if a woman standing at a urinal in the men’s room makes more sense. Becoming flustered, I jumped over the edge of the water and locked myself inside a stall, where I attempted in vain to comprehend what I had just seen.

It’s too bad they don’t have CERN toilets on Diaroogle yet, or else I could have avoided this scenario.

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