Some historical images from this month

This month 45 years ago…

June 1973 – All hands to the pumps!

On 12 June 1973, staff at Geneva airport measured winds gusting up to 47 knots. A few kilometres away, where CERN lay right in the path of the storm, it was even worse. Torrential rain and hail devastated neighbouring vineyards and caused havoc inside the laboratory. Roads turned to rivers and buildings to swimming pools. The Proton Synchrotron was shut down as water in the basement rose to 1.80 metres.


Muddy water forced up from the drains made matters worse, but all staff mucked in to help. When the floods receded, everything had to be hosed down (treatment not usually recommended for electrical equipment!) and the repair gangs and cleaners got on with the slow job of recovery. See more pictures and a link to the CERN Courier article here.

This month 47 years ago…

May 1971 – Inauguration of Gargamelle

CERN’s Gargamelle bubble chamber was 4.8 metres long by 2 metres in diameter, weighed 1,000 tonnes, and held nearly 12 cubic metres of heavy-liquid Freon. It was inaugurated on 7 May 1971 with a day of speeches, visits and lunch for the journalists and other guests. This short film, made a few months earlier, describes the design, construction and operation of the giantess.  


Early results from Gargamelle provided crucial evidence for the existence of quarks, and in July 1973 the Gargamelle collaboration presented the first direct evidence of the weak neutral current. The pictures that made the tracks of particles visible as trails of bubbles, yielding these scientific results, are also extremely beautiful. The one shown dates from 1978; you can see more, and some of their interpretive sketches, here.

This month 90 years ago…

April 1928 – Pauli in Zurich: contradict me!

Wolfgang Pauli took up his duties as professor in Zurich at the end of April 1928. Before accepting the post he had insisted on the appointment of an assistant, and wrote to Ralph Kronig on 22 November, ‘I would like to ask you, for the moment quite tentatively, if in principle you would agree to accept this position … your task would be:

1. Every time I say something, to contradict me with detailed arguments.

2. To animate somewhat the scientific activity with modern ideas.


Looking back (this photo dates from 1955), Kronig considered his time in Zurich, ‘not only as one of the most instructive, but also as one of the most exhilarating periods’ of his life. He added, ‘One of my tasks, not agreed upon beforehand, was to watch out that Pauli should limit his consumption of ice cream at Sprüngli’s Konditorei at the Paradeplatz where we often went in the afternoon.'

This month 60 years ago…

March 1958 - I can paint like Titian

Pauli thought Heisenberg’s ‘World Formula’ needed a lot more work, and he made his point graphically. He sent this drawing of an empty picture frame to George Gamow on 1 March 1958 with the caption, ‘This is to show the world that I can paint like Titian … Only technical details are missing.’


Pauli and Heisenberg had collaborated for many years, but Pauli was unconvinced by the results of their search for a unified theory of elementary particles, and felt the publicity about it was premature.  He died in December of the same year. The letter is online here.

This month 94 years ago…

February 1924 – Pauli’s inaugural lecture

Wolfgang Pauli received his habilitation from the University of Hamburg in 1924  – the same year he discovered his Nobel-Prize-winning exclusion principle – and delivered his inaugural lecture on 23 February. He was awarded the title of professor in 1926, then obtained a professorship in theoretical physics at the ETH, Zürich, in 1928. His tendency to forget about the audience, and think out problems as he went along, proved challenging for some students. But, as Markus Fierz pointed, they at least learned to think critically about a theory!

This month 101 years ago…

December 1906 – Young Wolfgang Pauli

Future Nobel laureate Wolfgang Pauli was a little over six-and-a-half years old when this photo was taken in December 1906. His biographer Charles Enz notes that that young Wolfi contracted all the usual childhood diseases and, to use the typically Viennese expression, es war ihm immer fad – he always felt bored.


By the age of four he was already adept in the art of contradicting his elders that would later help him to reshape modern physics. On being told during one of his walks through Vienna, ‘Now we are walking over the Danube Canal', he replied firmly, ‘No, Aunt Erna, this is the Wien Canal, which flows into the Danube Canal.’


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