What happened this month

...This month 60 years ago
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...This month 60 years ago June 1960 - CERN commemorates Wolfgang Pauli

In 1960 CERN received a valuable gift: the scientific archives of Wolfgang Pauli. Following Pauli’s death in 1958, his widow Franca Pauli took charge of his scientific legacy. Helped by his former assistants Charles Enz and Victor Weisskopf, she sorted papers and tracked down originals or copies of his many letters.


This rich correspondence, covering groundbreaking ideas in physics and revealing Pauli’s broader philosophical interests, was bequeathed to CERN along with other documents, photos and a few objects, such as his pocket watch and baptismal cup. Mrs Pauli is shown here with two of the organization’s founding fathers, Francis Perrin and François de Rose, at the inauguration of CERN’s Pauli Memorial Room (Salle Pauli) on 14 June 1960 (see press release).

Most of the items in the Pauli Archive are available online here.

Fri, 19/06/2020 - 09:21
...This month 60 years ago March 1960 – CERN welcomes its 1000th staff member

On Tuesday 22 March 1960 the growing CERN family gained a new recruit when Claude Célarier became its thousandth staff member. The young Frenchman trained as a technical draughtsman during the war, then worked in the machine-tool industry and aviation engine manufacture. In his spare time he enjoyed music, the theatre and painting. Thinking CERN might not be a bad place to continue his career, he applied, and was selected to join Mr. Horisberger's drawing office, where he set to work developing beam extraction apparatus.


On 23 March Célarier was welcomed to CERN with a small party, and three dozen staff members applauded as he received a commemorative scroll and two bottles of champagne from Director-General Cornelis Bakker.

Wed, 15/04/2020 - 11:19
...This month 68 years ago
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...This month 68 years ago May 1952 – What’s the first letter?

Have you ever wondered what the very first letter in the very first binder of the very long series of correspondence files produced by CERN’s Directors-General is about? If so, click here.


Don’t get too excited, though. As expected for an organization just coming into existence, it deals with administrative matters, specifically the arrangements for the second meeting of the provisional Council in June 1952. You can read the minutes of that meeting here and browse other Council meetings here.


CERN did not officially exist in 1952; the provisional Council’s task of creating the new international laboratory for nuclear physics reached a successful conclusion on 1 July 1953 with the signature of the CERN Convention. 

Mon, 11/05/2020 - 12:43
...This month 65 years ago
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...This month 65 years ago April 1955 – Pauli remembers his ‘spiritual father’

On 24 April 1955, shortly after the death of Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli wrote to Max Born recalling a touching moment he had never forgotten.


Pauli was working at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, having left Europe for the USA during World War 2, and had just heard he had been awarded the Nobel Prize. A celebration was organised and, after speeches by various distinguished guests, the elderly and ailing Einstein rose unexpectedly to give an impromptu address. 


Pauli told Born ten years later, “I will never forget the speech about me, and for me, that he gave at Princeton in 1945 after I got the Nobel Prize. It was like the abdication of a king, installing me as a kind of elected son, as his successor.” Unfortunately, since it was entirely spontaneous, no record of it remained.


This photo Pauli and Einstein together in 1926. The 1955 letter (in German) is available here 

Wed, 15/04/2020 - 11:13
...This month 64 years ago
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...This month 64 years ago October 1955 – The Journal of Jocular Physics

The Journal of Jocular Physics, published by the Institute of Theoretical Physics (now the Niels Bohr Institute), was a spoof journal produced in honour of Niels Bohr or his 50th 60th and 70th birthdays. The 1955 edition included a new version of Kipling’s Elephant’s Child, the Geneva Conference “Alcohol for Peace,” The Atom that Bohr Built, and much more.  


On page 10, a memo addressed to all members of CERN gave advice on the standardization of papers. Rules and a template were provided to reduce the work of writing and editing articles; helpful suggestions included starting all papers about field theory with the phrase “According to Schwinger.”


(The 1935 edition is available here.)

Wed, 15/04/2020 - 11:19
This month 35 years ago…
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This month 35 years ago… September 1984 – CERN’s 30th anniversary

This photo shows one of the 4,500 visitors at CERN’s Open Day on 15 September 1984. The festivities, which marked the Organization’s 30th anniversary, also included a concert and a formal ceremony on 21 September.  CERN’s team of historians put together an exhibition of archival documents, and a history seminar traced over three decades of achievement. Read all about the events in the November 1984 CERN Courier, or browse through the exhibition catalogue and official speeches here .

Wed, 11/09/2019 - 14:53
This month 32 years ago…
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This month 32 years ago… August 1987 – “Cosmic Song” by Serge Moro

In 1985 CERN commissioned a monumental mosaic for its new reception building, Serge Moro’s “Cosmic Song”, which was completed in 1987. This photo shows the scale of the artwork, and a more dramatic picture of the swirling colours and shapes was captured by the July/August CERN Courier (p. 31).


The metal and plexiglass flooring, built in collaboration with the CERN workshops, uses fluorescent light effects governed by the constant rain of cosmic ray particles from outer space. You can see it in action in the artist’s film clip.

Mon, 05/08/2019 - 14:34
This month 59 years ago…
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This month 59 years ago… July 1960 – Soviet visitors arrive at CERN

Following CERN’s decision in 1959 to welcome Soviet scientists, the first long-term visitors from beyond the iron curtain arrived on 18 July 1960 for a stay of six months.


Vladimir Meshcheryakov and Rostislav Ryndin, from the Theoretical Physics Laboratory in Dubna, joined CERN’s Theoretical Studies Division, where they continued to work on projects begun in the USSR, while experimentalist Yuri Sherbakov, also from Dubna, assisted in running the 600 MeV synchro-cyclotron. See the July 1960 CERN Courier  for more details.

Tue, 23/07/2019 - 09:07
This month 59 years ago… July 1958 – 8th Annual International Conference on High Energy Physics

The 8th Annual International Conference on High Energy Physics – known as the Rochester Conference, from the name of its first venue – was held at the Physics Institute of the University of Geneva. The format for this meeting, which was also the 2nd CERN Conference on High Energy Nuclear Physics, differed slightly from previous years. To maximise use of time, rapporteurs were chosen summarise the developments in their field. You can read the proceedings here or look at some of the deliberations of the planning committee here.


Even if rapporteurs helped make the content clearer for participants, CERN’s Public Information Office pointed out that it ‘will probably be too hard to digest for the average reporter and reader, even if cleverly "popularized". Thus the main stress should be placed on personalities and the spirit of international cooperation.’ (See memo.) There were plenty of high profile physicists to choose from, including Nobel Prize winner Wolfgang Pauli; a rare recording of him speaking at the conference is online here.   

Mon, 31/07/2017 - 09:20
This month 48 years ago…
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This month 48 years ago… May 1971 – Inauguration of Gargamelle

CERN’s Gargamelle bubble chamber was inaugurated on 7 May 1971. The giantess (named after the mother of Gargantua, in François Rabelais’ The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel) was 4.8 metres long by 2 metres in diameter, and weighed 1,000 tonnes.


Almost half a century later, some of the pictures showing the trails of bubbles that allowed scientists to view the tracks of the particles form part of an exhibition showcasing work by CERN’s artists-in-residence.


Read more about the Quantum exhibition at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona  (CCCB) here and more about Arts-at-CERN here You can watch a short film about the design, construction and operation of Gargamelle here and see more Gargamelle bubble chamber pictures, with some of their interpretive sketches, here.

Mon, 27/05/2019 - 13:57
This month 48 years ago… August 1968 - CERN’s new telephone exchange

Dialling zero for an outside line could get frustrating in 1965. With just 17 lines serving 1,000 CERN extensions, callers faced long waits – and if the overloaded battery failed no-one got through at all. Phone traffic had increased by 70% between 1963 and 1965, complaints were frequent and the exchange staff were feeling overloaded too.


No more lines, extensions or operators’ desks could be added to existing exchange, so a new one was commissioned. Stop-gap measures until it was ready in August 1968 included pleas for patience and strict rationing of the only 140 new internal phone numbers remaining at CERN.

Mon, 01/08/2016 - 08:29
This month 48 years ago… July 1968 – The 55th Tour de France comes to CERN

CERN’s internal magazine carried detailed instructions about closed roads, blocked entrances, and suggested detours. Staff were invited to respect the parking ban and to obey police instructions, but plenty of them took the opportunity to pile outside and watch as well. On 19 July 1968 the Tour de France came right past CERN’s main entrance!


CERN staff joined fans lining the route to encourage riders on Stage 20, which took the riders 242.5 km from Sallanches to Besançon, over the Faucille pass in the nearby Jura mountains. This was the last year that the Tour ran on a national team format; stage 20 was won by Jozef Huysmans (Belgium A), who finished 32nd overall when the race ended two days later.


Thu, 30/06/2016 - 15:41
This month 50 years ago…
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This month 50 years ago… April 1969 – John Adams, Director of the 300 GeV project

By 1 April 1969, John Adams was ready to take up his new role, as Director of CERN’s 300 GeV project, full-time. This photo shows him presenting plans for the new accelerator a few months earlier – you can read the minutes of the 16 January 1969 Committee of Council meeting, largely devoted to discussion of the project, here.


At this time it was not even clear in which country the new machine would be built. By showing that it made most financial and technological sense to build the Super Proton Synchrotron next to the existing CERN site, Adams was able to break the deadlock between member states.

Wed, 24/04/2019 - 10:50
This month 60 years ago…
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This month 60 years ago… March 1959 – CERN’s D-G strongly in favour of welcoming Soviet scientists

The first informal contacts between Soviet and CERN scientists probably took place at the Atoms for Peace conference in Geneva in September 1955. Exchange visits between scientists from CERN and the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR) were suggested in 1957, but there was little progress until N. Bogolubov of JINR raised the subject again on 4 February 1959. CERN’s director-general C. Bakker replied on 5 March that he was, in principle, strongly in favour of the idea, and he began to look into the practicalities. (See their letters here.)


Bakker chaired an informal gathering on International Cooperation in the Field of High Energy Physics Accelerators in September 1959. After more consultation with CERN’s member states he was able to report to Council on 1 December 1959 that "all the delegations were in favour of such exchanges provided they were reciprocal", and the Draft Proposal was approved the following day.

Wed, 20/03/2019 - 17:09
This month 30 years ago…
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This month 30 years ago… February 1989 – The LEP monorail

On 21 February 1989, CERN inaugurated its new monorail, suspended from the ceiling of the 27-kilometre Large Electron-Positron Collider tunnel.


The trains, all named after local villages, travelled at around 12 kilometres per hour and came in three different designs to handle different cargoes. LEP was in the second phase of construction, and sixty thousand tonnes of equipment had to be installed quickly in a very narrow space. The monorail let workers and equipment move efficiently and safely.


The inaugural speeches took place at different points around the tunnel and the guests, who had been warned to wrap up warmly, were treated to a ride between them on CERN’s very own metro.

Wed, 20/02/2019 - 15:53
This month 62 years ago…
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This month 62 years ago… January 1957 – CERN’s Scientific Information Service is born

In January 1957, CERN’s newly created Scientific Information Service (SIS) was planning for the year’s big challenge – moving the Library into new premises. Three of the staff are shown here at the old premises in July.


Until the end of 1956, CERN’s Library, translation team and public relations office all formed part of a single Information Service, but this had been split up, leaving around a dozen staff to handle “scientific documentation, publication and exchange of reports, associated ‘print shop’ activities and relations with the scientific press.” You can read the report on SIS’ first year here.

Wed, 16/01/2019 - 16:30
This month 62 years ago… April 1954 – The housing problem in Geneva

“CERN staff members settling in Geneva have to meet with very serious housing difficulties”…“It might take them up to several months depending on seasonal factors”…“They may try to secure housing through repeated visits to the 47 Régies [agents] where they will meet with lack of interest: the demand is so high that the Régies always have many more customers that they can satisfy.”


Most staff coming to CERN in the mid-1950s wanted to rent a flat, but about a hundred small villas were for sale in the region too, priced between 70,000 and 120,000 CHF (…“everybody agrees to the fact that prices are inflated”…)


Sounds familiar? That’s not surprising – as a December 1953 report had already pointed out, “A recent inquiry has led to the conclusion that the housing situation in Geneva will not change next year and that the shortage will remain for 1-2 more years at least.”

Mon, 04/04/2016 - 16:57
This month 88 years ago…
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This month 88 years ago… December 1930 - Pauli’s Neutrino letter (now in music and art!)

On 4 December 1930, Wolfgang Pauli wrote his famous letter to the ‘Dear radioactive ladies and gentlemen’ postulating a neutral particle to solve the puzzle of missing energy during beta decay. This letter forms the basis of a new work by ART(at)CREATIONS, Liebe Radioaktive Damen und Herren, featuring music composed by Petros Stergiopoulos and Oded Ben-Horin.

Pauli had to wait nearly 26 years for experimental confirmation of the neutrino. As he wrote to its discoverers, Frederick Reines and Clyde Cowan, ‘Everything comes to him who knows how to wait.’

Thu, 04/07/2019 - 17:41
This month 56 years ago…
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This month 56 years ago… November 1962 - CERN’s first technical training course

Setting up CERN’s new technical training courses raised important questions. How far was it CERN’s job to provide this sort of education? Could anyone be persuaded to teach classes when they were already too busy with own work? Would they be any good at it, since most were more used to presenting conference papers and academic lectures?


The training had been requested by CERN’s machine operators, workshop staff and laboratory assistants, and 279 people signed up in the first year. The courses, which included practical demonstrations and exercises, proved very popular and were extended to provide staff with specialist knowledge they could not easily get elsewhere and keep them up to date with modern techniques.


Read more in the December 1962 CERN Courier,

in the June 1962 report to the CERN Council

or in this overview (in French) from 1 June 1967.

Wed, 14/11/2018 - 10:34
This month 56 years ago… 5 Feb 1960 – Inauguration of the Proton Synchrotron

The PS came into operation on 24 November 1959, breaking existing records as the world’s biggest and most powerful particle accelerator. The official ceremony a few months later (you can watch part of it in this 1960 documentary) was a celebration of the technical achievement but also of successful European co-operation that paved the way for progress in the aftermath of World War II. A special issue of the CERN Courier gave more information about the new machine. 


A press conference and visit were followed by lunch, then the official inauguration by Niels Bohr, speeches and a reception. The guest list included several hundred eminent scientific and political figures. The back cover of the commemorative brochure also featured VIPs - the men and women who made up the PS team.

Mon, 01/02/2016 - 11:52
This month 83 years ago…
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This month 83 years ago… October 1935 - The first Journal of Jocular physics

The traditional Festschrift was abandoned for Niels Bohr’s 50th birthday, lest he should ‘feel it as his duty to read the contents and even try to learn something.’ Instead, he received the Journal of Jocular Physics.


Future Director-General of CERN, Viki Weisskopf, was a major contributor. His ‘Komplementäre Philosophie des Witzes’ (Complementary Philosophy of Jokes) maintained that humour held a curved mirror to truth, giving a distorted but illuminating insight that challenged our comfortable assumptions in much the same way as one of key tenets of quantum mechanics, complementarity.


Published by the Institute of Theoretical Physics (now the Niels Bohr Institute), the spoof journal contained articles in German, Danish, English, French and Japanese and espoused an attitude of ‘hopeful pessimism and serene preparedness’. Sadly, with Europe moving towards World War 2, contributions from G. Gamow, O. Klein (echoing a bellicose speech by Mussolini) and L. Rosenfeld were omitted, as ‘the possibility of misinterpretation in a political and therefore, not purely jocular sense could not be entirely excluded.’

Wed, 03/10/2018 - 10:47
This month 50 years ago…
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This month 50 years ago… September 1968 – Inauguration of the European Physical Society

“The formation of the European Physical Society with such a wide membership is a further demonstration of the determination of scientists to collaborate as closely as possible in order to make their positive contribution to the strength of European cultural unity.”


So said Gilberto Bernardini in his inaugural address on 26 September 1968. But it all started with a friendly dinner party in Bologna three years earlier; read Bernardini’s 18 January 1966 letter to Leon Van Hove here.


More information about the history of EPS here

More about the inauguration ceremony here

This photo shows Bernardini enrolling as a member of EPS; see more photos of the inauguration ceremony here

Tue, 04/09/2018 - 11:14
This month 56 years ago…
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This month 56 years ago… August 1962 - ‘May I have a look around?’

During the summer of 1962, the CERN Photo Club and Public Information Department organized a photographic competition on the theme, ‘How a visitor sees CERN’.


E. Fischer scooped a prize with an excellent colour print of the tall, white Administration building standing out against a clear blue sky. Marinus van Gulik took another approach, and another prize, with a series of photos of his son. You can see some of them in the December 1962 CERN Courier. His pictures also featured the Administration building or, as he called it, CERN’s third machine, the paper accelerator.

Wed, 01/08/2018 - 11:20
This month 56 years ago… July 1962 – CERN to America, via Telstar

At CERN, in July 1962, 60 hours of feverish preparation culminated in 60 seconds of history-making television. On the evening of 23 July, some two hundred million viewers in Europe and North America had a short glimpse of CERN at work during the first direct transmission relaying electromagnetic waves from Europe to the USA via an artificial satellite.


Telstar was an international collaboration that included NASA, AT&T, Bell Labs (who carried out the construction work) and the French and British national post offices. Read more in the CERN Courier, including why Switzerland chose to devote its one minute of allotted airtime to our laboratory; learn more about Telstar from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Wed, 04/07/2018 - 15:41
This month 45 years ago…
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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.

Wed, 06/06/2018 - 13:33
This month 45 years ago… March 1972 – Computers: why?

What is a computer? Why does CERN need the new ‘number crunchers’ anyway? These are some of the questions Lew Kowarski tries to answer in a special issue of the CERN Courier devoted to computing at CERN in 1972.


In his introduction he explains that high-energy physics is not just about hunting down and photographing strange particles, as though they were so many rare animals. Other articles give details of electronics experiments, bubble chamber experiments, data acquisition and analysis, mathematical computing applications in theoretical studies and more. But it is perhaps the advertisements that really capture the state of the art nearly half a century ago

Wed, 01/03/2017 - 16:50
This month 45 years ago… December 1971 - New home for CERN apprentices

A “modest ceremony” marked the opening of a new training centre for CERN’s apprentices on 9 December 1971. The converted barrack was fitted with a range of equipment, enabling them to practice their skills and spend more time learning together before heading around the laboratory for further training. 


The apprenticeship programme had been set up in conjunction with the Geneva authorities to take advantage of the extraordinary range of specialist skills found at CERN. It began in 1966 with the enrolment of five young people, two in design office work, one as a laboratory assistant and two in administration. Starting at around the age of 15, they spent three or four years at CERN before moving on to further education or directly into employment.

Mon, 05/12/2016 - 16:55
This month 47 years ago…
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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.

Wed, 16/05/2018 - 11:17
This month 47 years ago… September 1970 – The European Southern Observatory at CERN

A new group set up at CERN in the 1970s had rather different objectives to those of the rest of the laboratory. Their main task was to build a 3.6 metre telescope to be sent to Chile, following signature of a collaboration agreement between the ESO and CERN on 16 September 1970.


The first meeting of the coordinating committee two years later reviewed progress and confirmed that ESO’s Sky Atlas Laboratory was also welcome to continue their work of mapping the southern sky at CERN. The groups relocated to the ESO’s new premises at Garching, Germany, in 1980. See the committee report, read the press release and Professor Blaauw’s article in the August 1970 CERN Courier, or enjoy some more photos of the teams at work.

Wed, 13/09/2017 - 16:45
This month 90 years ago…
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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.'

Wed, 11/04/2018 - 11:38
This month 60 years ago…
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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.

Wed, 28/03/2018 - 16:22
This month 60 years ago… 11 July 1955 – Election of the Staff Association Committee

Voting for the Committee members of CERN’s newly formed Staff Association closed at midnight on 11 July 1955; Messrs J.A. Giebel, K. Johnson, J. P. Stroot, E. Zaccheroni, J. Ball, R. Siegfried, Miss C. de Mol and Miss A. Schubert were duly elected, with 177 votes cast.


On 21 July the Chairman, Mr A. Sarazin, requested formal recognition of the Association as sole representative of CERN’s personnel. Cornelis Bakker, who was just taking over from Felix Bloch as Director-General, was happy to grant this, with the proviso that that staff could still approach him directly if they so wished. At this time, not all CERN staff were based in Geneva and he suggested that that those in Copenhagen, Uppsala and Liverpool should also be represented by the Association. The next step was a series of meetings between management and the Association, and the creation of a consultative committee. You can read some of the relevant letters here.

Wed, 01/07/2015 - 13:11
This month 60 years ago… May 1955 – Inaugural meeting of the CERN Staff Association

 “Wholeheartedly agree – the sooner the better!” – CERN’s personnel officer was enthusiastic about the idea of creating a Staff Association in 1955. The Director of Administration, Sam Dakin, was similarly encouraging, writing to the Director-General: “Very often I am conscious that in attempting to judge the needs and wishes of the staff, we have to rely on ordinary gossip and that for official comments we have only those of Divisional Directors who may not always accurately know or represent the feeling of their staff. […] In such matters as, for instance, the health insurance, scales of pay, annual leave and so on, I should feel much better satisfied that we were adapting our policy to meet the real needs of the case if we have discussed it with the staff representatives as well as with the Directors.” (You can read the letters here.)


The Association held its inaugural meeting in the large lecture theatre of Geneva’s Institut de Physique at 6.15pm on Wednesday 11 May 1955. The rules and statutes were approved at this meeting and the President (A. Sarazin) and Committee members were elected over the next few weeks.

Thu, 07/05/2015 - 08:37
This month 94 years ago…
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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!

Mon, 26/02/2018 - 16:53
This month 101 years ago…
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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.’

Mon, 26/02/2018 - 16:50
This month 51 years ago…
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This month 51 years ago… November 1966 – Tristan and Isolde

Chief engineer Bernard Poulten received this drawing from his colleagues at CERN’s Isotope Separator On-Line DEvice fifty-one years ago. In deference to the well-known legend and opera, it was inscribed ‘To Tristan from Isolde (project), 3.11.1966’. (You can see the full drawing here.) Clearing out some old papers recently, he and his family very kindly decided to send the drawing back to CERN… where it arrived just in time for ISOLDE’s anniversary celebrations!


ISOLDE, CERN’s longest-running experimental facility, produced its first radioactive beam 50 years ago. Past and present staff tell the story, with the help of some early film clips here.

Wed, 01/11/2017 - 10:03
This month 53 years ago…
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This month 53 years ago… October 1964 – CERN’s 10th anniversary

On 10 October 1964 representatives of CERN’s Member States came to see for themselves the progress made during the laboratory’s first decade and to hear about plans for the future. On 30 October Director-General Victor Weisskopf invited all staff for a glass of wine to celebrate, and declared 2 November an official holiday.


You can read the official speeches here, or you can read R. W. Penney’s ‘unscientific recollections’ in the CERN Courier.  Penney preferred speak of an eleventh anniversary, since he said CERN really took off in September 1953, when the various groups began to centralise in Geneva. The Meyrin site was still a ploughed field, so they worked where they could; he summed up life in the early days as ‘exhilarating’ and ‘exhausting’.

Mon, 09/10/2017 - 16:53
This month 53 years ago… 20 December 1962 – Summoning the Founding Fathers

By 1962, with CERN’s long-term accelerator construction plans still not fixed, some member states were growing impatient to pursue their own projects. A meeting was called for January 1963, where Europe’s top high-energy physicists would thresh out the whole question of coordinating national initiatives with those carried out at CERN.


Reaching agreement between so many countries was never going to be easy, so Director-General Weisskopf suggested a pre-meeting of even more important people – CERN’s “Founding Fathers”. He felt an “informal exchange of view among people who are beyond the pure scientific level” - people committed to CERN’s aims and with experience in governmental matters – would help find “the best way in which to prepare a sympathetic response for the various European countries”. Discussions began over dinner at Le Béarn in Geneva on 19 December, and continued the next day. You can read the minutes of the meeting here. The top physicists duly met January, and became the European Committee for Future Accelerators. 

Tue, 01/12/2015 - 11:35
This month 58 years ago…
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This month 58 years ago… August 1959 – CERN Courier No. 1

‘It is a pleasure to introduce our long expected internal bulletin,’ wrote Director-General Cornelis Jan Bakker, ‘I hope it will benefit not only from your attention but also from the many suggestions which will certainly arise in CERN's fertile minds.’


The first CERN Courier featured visiting VIPs, a forthcoming trip to Russia, feedback on the 13th CERN Council Session and a round-up of news at CERN and abroad (Other Peoples' Atoms). Behind the scenes, an introductory report from the editor discussed the objectives and format of the proposed journal, and also how to finance it. Disagreement about whether it would be ethically acceptable to include advertisements rumbled on for quite some time.

Thu, 10/08/2017 - 10:34
This month 57 years ago…
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This month 57 years ago… June 1960 - CERN commemorates Wolfgang Pauli

CERN has the privilege of housing the scientific archive of 1945 Nobel-prizewinning physicist Wolfgang Pauli. This small but historically valuable collection was donated by Pauli’s widow who, with the help of friends, tracked down originals or copies of his numerous letters. This correspondence, with Bohr, Heisenberg, Einstein and others, provides an invaluable resource on the development of 20th century science.


Franca Pauli can be seen here with two of CERN’s founding fathers, Francis Perrin and François de Rose, at the inauguration of CERN’s Pauli Memorial Room (Salle Pauli) on 14 June 1960 (press release, in French). The Archive also includes photographs, manuscripts, notes, and a rare audio recording of Pauli lecturing in 1958. Many items have been digitized and are available online; more information is available here.

Wed, 14/06/2017 - 09:26
This month 57 years ago… April 1960 - First session of the CERN Computer Users’ Committee

Demand for CERN’s Mercury computer had increased rapidly since its arrival in 1958, and by 1960 it was time to impose some sort of order on the users: “The present informal arrangement where every programmer may contact any operator makes it impossible for the operators to work efficiently.” A Users’ Committee was set up (see the minutes of the first meeting), a reception desk was established and some rules laid down.


“Programmers have always the strong tendency to ask the operator to perform various emergency actions as soon as their programmes fail. If the operator follows such directions computer time is usually lost unnecessarily. If she refuses (as she is supposed to do), experience shows that people tend to argue. Consequently every effort will be made to have no programmer in the computer room outside normal working hours.” Any questions were to be directed to the Office of the Programming King, Mr Lake. 

Mon, 03/04/2017 - 14:29
This month 40 years ago…
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This month 40 years ago… May 1977 – Inaugurating the Super Proton Synchrotron

On 7 may 1977 Europe inaugurated the world’s largest accelerator – the Super Proton Synchrotron; you can read all about it in the CERN Courier.


But what was happening behind the scenes? Did you know that organising secretary, Miss Steel, set up a massive card index to keep track of the guests, entering all the details on 6,000 colour-coded cards? She also insisted on sending reply cards to the VIPs, even though treating them like ordinary mortals was considered infra dig; she said the higher you go in a hierarchy, the less legible signatures become, and she wanted to know who the replies came from. Logistics were further complicated by differing conceptions between the different countries as to what constituted an “official delegate”. Her unofficial report makes interesting reading too.  

Tue, 02/05/2017 - 09:51
This month 40 years ago… 14 September 1975 – Chatting about physics at the National People’s Congress

A trip to China in September 1975 helped pave the way for increased contact between the scientific communities. Scientists from the People's Republic of China had visited CERN in July 1973, and the reciprocal invitation two years later featured social and scientific exchanges plus the traditional group photo. The schedule underwent several changes, you can see a draft here.


The visitors assured their hosts that Chinese physicists and engineers would be welcome at CERN for longer periods. ”At first, their reaction was polite agreement as to the desirability of such visits,” reported Viktor Weisskopf. “On September 14, we were received by a high government official: Wu Lein-fu, Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National Congress [centre front of photo]. This man supported the proposal of extended visits of Chinese physicists and engineers to CERN, by quoting a Chinese proverb: "One eye is better than a hundred ears”. I had the impression that, from then on, the Chinese physicists talked much more about extended visits to CERN." You can read more about it in the October 1975 issue of the CERN Courier.

Tue, 01/09/2015 - 08:49
This month 58 years ago…
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This month 58 years ago… February 1959 – Yesterday’s Tomorrow’s World

Fans of vintage British TV science documentaries might enjoy this early precursor to Tomorrow’s World. On weekdays (when the outside broadcast cameras weren’t needed to cover sports fixtures!) the Eye on Research crew visited scientific laboratories and research centres to discuss topical issues.


This was the BBC’s first regular science and technology series; it broadcast over forty episodes on a wide range of subjects between 1957 and 1962 (they are listed on BBC Genome). Presenting live from CERN on 24 February 1959, we see Raymond Baxter deploying all his famous interviewing skills to help some distinctly nervous scientists explain their work to the viewers. The soundtrack jumps a bit, but it’s still worth a look.

Wed, 01/02/2017 - 14:09
This month 54 years ago…
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This month 54 years ago… January 1963 – CERN on ice

It needed more than a broom to tackle the giant icicles decorating CERN’s labs and offices during the great freeze of 1963. The village of La Brévine, 150km away, lived up to its reputation as Little Siberia with temperatures down to -38°C, while cyclists - and even motorists - enjoyed themselves riding across Europe’s frozen lakes and icy rivers.


The Swiss electricity network struggled to cope with high demand, reduced production and the failure of a high-tension cable bringing power from Germany. In response, CERN limited its consumption as much as possible, modifying or cutting the experimental programme until things improved. See more photos of CERN in the 1963 snow here.

Thu, 05/01/2017 - 11:33
This month 54 years ago… January 1961 – Miss Steel and the Scientific Conference Secretariat

Conferences are a great way to promote international scientific communication, and CERN soon acquired considerable experience in running them.  In January 1961 it set up a Scientific Conference Secretariat to share this expertise, organizing conferences in collaboration with local scientific institutions abroad as well as those on-site. In the early days the Secretariat had a staff of just one person - Miss Steel.


A keen traveller and one of the great characters of CERN, E. W. D. Steel brought experience from an international career in refugee work when she joined the Organization as a secretary in 1955. She soon discovered that conference organizing committees generally had plenty of scientific knowledge, but were less skilled in dealing with the practicalities. She also observed that “most theoretical physicists are delightful people but they are often nervous and highly strung and need to be handled with care”! Her autobiography A ‘One and Only’ Looks Back is filled with anecdotes of a rich and rewarding life.  

Mon, 05/01/2015 - 11:24
This month 51 years ago…
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This month 51 years ago… November 1965 – No parking problems with a palanquin

A suggestion to ease parking problems on the CERN site by allocating spaces didn’t go down well in 1965. Possibly the priority given to senior staff, and remarks about the benefits of an invigorating walk, gave offence. In any case, an alternative was proposed: 

‘May I suggest instead that “senior administrators, division leaders" and the like, be provided with sedan-chairs or palanquins, in which they could be transported swiftly and effortlessly from corner to corner of the site. Other members of the staff would of course function as bearers. This would not only provide them with invigorating exercise, but also inculcate a due sense of their social position.’


A worried prospective bearer suggested motor scooters, as used by nuns on the wards of an Illinois hospital, instead. To prevent congestion indoors, use of the corridors could be limited to senior staff. Other people would get from office to office via the window ledges, not only enjoying healthful exercise but also freeing up more parking spaces as staffing levels gradually decreased when they fell off. The suggestion does not seem to have been adopted, but remains on file

Mon, 31/10/2016 - 13:16
This month 82 years ago…
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This month 82 years ago… October 1934 – Pauli and Sommerfeld in Geneva

Wolfgang Pauli is seen here with his former teacher Arnold Sommerfeld attending a conference on the electron theory of metals in Geneva, 1518 October 1934. The conference proceedings don’t mention any leisure activities, but these included a cable car trip up the nearby Salève mountain to enjoy views of Geneva town, the lake and the Alps. The Salève is in France and Sommerfeld had no French visa, so conference organiser Jean Weiglé obligingly smuggled him up to join the others in his car. 

Thu, 06/10/2016 - 11:40
This month 37 years ago…
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This month 37 years ago… 29 September 1979 - CERN Staff Day

Official 25th anniversary celebrations were held on 25 June, but the fun and games happened on CERN’s real birthday, 29 September. As well as sports, sideshows, films, and Genevan Pipes and Drums, there was Happy Birthday, CERN, written and recorded for the occasion at Fermilab.


Verse three goes like this:

“Here's the toast we're proposing:    

may your future be greater,  

  And the budget imposing for your  

  next accelerator;    

May your staff be effective and   

your beams full of pep, 

  May you gain your objective of  

  constructing the LEP!” 


If you can bear to read more, scroll down to page four here - and take a look at one of one of the star attractions at the same time: the Fire Brigade’s 20-metre rescue chute.

Wed, 31/08/2016 - 10:24
This month 59 years ago…
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This month 59 years ago… June 1957 - The P.A.U.L.I. and its uses

In June 1957, V. F. Weisskopf proudly announced acquisition of an instrument with unique possibilities - an intricate mechanism for testing complicated physics theories and producing new ideas. But it required careful handling! Inexperienced operators testing a theory would often see no reaction at first, or just hear faint noises reminiscent of German expressions such as “Ganz dumm” and “Sind sie noch immer da?” It was rather bulky, almost spherical in shape, and very much dependent on the correct fuel supply. Weisskopf said that, for reasons not yet fully understood, nobody had been able to make the machine work before noon.


In fact, Wolfgang Pauli had been acquired as a professor at the ETH Zürich in 1928, but a footnote explained that the paper had been classified since 1932, and partial publication was only now permitted since the U.S.S.R. had succeeded in building a similar gadget with a radius 1.5 times larger than the original model.


You can read the full report here (p.9) along with other fascinating articles in the spoof Revues of Unclear Physics, published at the University of Birmingham to celebrate the 50th birthday of R. E. Peierls.

Wed, 01/06/2016 - 13:58
This month 53 years ago…
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This month 53 years ago… May 1963 – Fast ejection of protons from the PS

This remarkable photo, used on the cover of the May 1963 CERN Courier, captures the passage of protons extracted from CERN’s Proton Synchrotron (PS).


Initially, the PS had operated with internal targets, but when a beam of higher intensity was needed the fast ejection system was developed to eject the beam towards external targets. During the afternoon of Sunday 12 May 1963 the PS became the source of the world's first beam of 25 GeV protons to travel freely in air.


This photo was taken the following day by members of CERN’s Public Information Office. They placed blocks of plastic scintillator along the path of the beam and set up a camera to record the effect. As expected, the scintillators glowed brightly as the beam passed through them.


You can read more in the May and June 1963 editions of the CERN Courier, and there are more photos here.

Mon, 02/05/2016 - 14:16
This month 48 years ago…
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This month 48 years ago… March 1968 – Muons are like drunken cowboys

In March 1968 staff were invited to watch the new documentary film about CERN. They probably enjoyed themselves, as Guido Franco’s aim was to inform the public through entertainment. He sought to engage an audience’s attention and make them want to learn, rather than forcing information on them. If that sounds uncontentious, you might be surprised at the strength of feeling the film aroused.


Despite considerable editing at the end of 1967 to meet criticisms of the first version, opinion still varied widely. Some were enthusiastic, feeling it captured the spirit and excitement of particle physics research; others found it frivolous, mocking scientists and portraying them as playboys having a wonderful time at the taxpayers’ expense. Even the fiercest critics thought it reflected great credit on Franco as a film-maker, however, they just feared it could do untold damage to the reputation of CERN.

Mon, 29/02/2016 - 16:48
This month 55 years ago…
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This month 55 years ago… January 1961– Matter in question

If you’re not ready to start the New Year yet, how about a trip back in time instead? In January 1961 staff were invited to watch CERN’s first documentary film.


CERN was of growing interest to journalists, including those in ‘the field of television and moving pictures, news and featurial films’, and by the end of 1958 the organization decided it was time to make a film of its own. The contract was awarded to Georges Pessis in May, and filming soon began. A team of CERN advisors carefully considered all aspects of the work, including what it should be called. After some brainstorming they settled on Matter in Question for the English version. The first private viewing took place on 12 July 1960; the head of the Public Information Service told Pessis that the photography had been very favourably received, and no one had been too critical of the music – possibly jazz wasn’t to everyone’s taste.

Mon, 04/01/2016 - 13:52
This month 61 years ago…
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This month 61 years ago… 2 November 1954 – “OERN is difficult to pronounce in most languages”

Has it ever struck you as odd that the initials CERN refer to an organization that ceased to exist when the current organization was created? If so, you’re not alone.


The Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire was a provisional body set up in 1952 to establish a world-class fundamental physics research centre in Europe. It was dissolved when it had successfully accomplished its mission but by then, of course, the acronym CERN had stuck. Most people felt this wouldn’t cause any particular legal or other complications, though Lew Kowarski (second from the left in this 1955 photo) considered the idea “so silly as to be intolerable”. You can read Director of Administration Dakin’s memo on the subject here.

Mon, 02/11/2015 - 09:44
This month 97 years ago…
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This month 97 years ago… 4 October 1918 – Wolfgang Pauli begins his studies in Munich

In October 1918 Wolfgang Pauli left Vienna to study at the University of Munich. His Kollegienbuch gives a glimpse of the lecture courses he followed.


During the first semester Pauli attended a couple of morning courses (Unorganische Experimentalchemie and Experimentalphysik I), but gradually the nightlife of Munich claimed more of his attention. He would return late and continue working through much of the night, developing the habit of dropping in only towards the end of morning lectures to check the blackboard and see what he had missed. Sommerfeld tolerated this from his brilliant student, and Pauli achieved the highest mark in all disciplines at the oral doctoral examination on 25 July 1921.

Wed, 23/09/2015 - 16:00
This month 47 years ago…
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This month 47 years ago… 9 August 1968 – T. D. Lee lectures to CERN’s summer students

Summer at CERN means summer students – and a succession of distinguished speakers from within and outside the organization who share their knowledge with young scientists each year. This photo shows Nobel Prize-winner T. D. Lee explaining symmetry principles in physics to the 1968 intake.


The summer student programme was set up in 1962 as an extension of the existing fellows and visitors scheme. In its first year, 70 students were selected from around 500 applicants; they stayed for 68 weeks, lodging at the University in Geneva or in temporary barracks on the CERN site. Since then the programme has continued to grow, and the combination of work experience, lectures, discussions and workshops and an active social life remains just as popular.

Mon, 03/08/2015 - 09:16
This month 46 years ago...
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This month 46 years ago... 4 June 1969 – An Apollo 9 astronaut visits CERN

Astronaut Rusty Schweickart’s visit to CERN on 4 June 1969 was a big hit. The auditorium was packed, and his talk on The Flight of Apollo 9 and the Future of Space Exploration was screened to other equally crowded rooms around CERN. Just three months earlier he had been the Lunar Module pilot on the Apollo 9 mission, which carried out a series of tests in earth orbit paving the way for the landing of the first man on the moon on 20 July. The Lunar Excursion Module was the small spacecraft that would separate from the parent capsule in lunar orbit to carry two astronauts down to the surface of the moon and back.


In the two days following Rusty’s talk a further 1,250 people watched the Apollo 9 film, and Rusty was able to return incognito for a good look round CERN. More photos and an audio recording of part of the question and answer session are available if you’d like to know more.

Wed, 01/07/2015 - 11:40
This month 115 years ago…
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This month 115 years ago… April 1900 – Bertha Pauli’s son Wolfgang is born

Bertha Camilla Schütz (known as Maria) was born in Vienna in 1878. A writer and journalist, she followed in her father’s footsteps as collaborator on the Neue Freie Presse, writing theatre reviews and historical essays. In 1899 she married Wolf Pauli and their first child was born on 25 April 1900. Wolfgang junior, seen here at the age of 20 months, grew up to be a Nobel prizewinning physicist, and his sister Hertha (1906-1973) became an actress and writer. Their mother was a pacifist, a socialist and a feminist, participating in the electoral campaign of 1919 to urge women to cast their newly won vote for the Social Democratic Party. She died (suicide) on 15 November 1927.

Wed, 01/04/2015 - 08:37
This month 54 years ago…
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This month 54 years ago… March 1961 – Inauguration of the IBM 709

On 6 March 1961 François de Rose pressed the button to run the first program on CERN’s new IBM 709.  The existing Ferranti Mercury computer had been working at full stretch, but increasing user demand left CERN with a backlog of computing work by the end of 1959. A larger and faster machine was essential, though with the two operating together CERN soon got its first taste of compatibility problems.


Planning the inauguration of the IBM required a certain delicacy. CERN’s choice of an American computer over European ones had provoked some grumbling, and it was also important that no major Swiss academic institution was overlooked when issuing the invitations. There had been discussion of “a press conference when we could provide a reasonable number of journalists with information and, since this seemed to be required, drinks”, but in the end CERN provided facilities for a press gathering but let IBM organize this themselves. The inauguration remained a more scholarly affair; guests were treated to lunch, speeches, and a CERN visit – and a short musical performance by the new computer.

Wed, 04/03/2015 - 08:43
This month 69 years ago…
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This month 69 years ago… February 1946 - Wolfgang Pauli travels to Europe “Nobel Prize lectures en route”

In case you were wondering, Nobel prizewinning physicist Wolfgang Pauli was five feet four inches (162cm) tall, had brown eyes, black hair and a ruddy complexion and, in 1946, weighed 174 pounds (79kg). We know this thanks to the permit to depart from the United States issued to him on 12 February 1946.


This document replaced a permit that had been hurriedly issued on 21 November 1945 (Countries to be Visited: “Sweden”; Nature of Business: “To accept the Nobel Prize”!) After careful consideration, Pauli had decided to postpone his trip to Stockholm until 1946, and he and his wife left for Europe at the end of February. The trip included lectures en route, and they visited Ireland, Britain and France before returning to Switzerland, where he took up his professorial duties at Zurich over the summer, and then continuing to Copenhagen for the prize giving ceremony in December.

Mon, 02/02/2015 - 11:45
This month 60 years ago…
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This month 60 years ago… December 1954 – Baby CERN’s first Christmas

In his seasonal greetings to CERN’s Director-General and staff, the President of the CERN Council acknowledged the difficulties faced by a young organization and the devotion shown by all those involved in overcoming them.


The reply, sent a few days later, emphasized how much had been achieved: “…Less than three months after its official birth, CERN finds itself in possession of an active programme of research and building in full progress, adequate accommodation and a considerable staff. The stage of teething troubles is behind us; our approaching adolescence will bring difficulties of its own but we can look ahead with confidence…”

Thu, 04/12/2014 - 09:08
... 59 years ago
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... 59 years ago November 1955 – Does CERN need to buy a computer?

When CERN was just over a year old, the Scientific Policy Committee was asked its opinion “as to the advisability of purchasing [an] electronic computer”. Lew Kowarski thought we should buy one, and his proposal (CERN/SPC/13) makes fascinating reading. He gives an overview of the current state of the market and outlines some issues to be considered. These included costs and staffing requirements, but also the fact that physicists were unlikely to bother learning to use this new machine unless it was clear that the effort was worthwhile!


He considered the pros and cons of hiring a computer or collaborating with other institutes, but felt that purchase would serve us better “if an electronic computation is to become a standard technique in high-energy physics”. His recommendation was accepted, and the Ferranti Mercury computer was installed in June 1958 (see photo).

Mon, 10/11/2014 - 16:55
... 59 years ago October 1953 – Settling into Geneva

Even before the official creation of CERN in 1954, staff began to settle into temporary offices around Geneva. On 5 October 1953 part of the PS (Proton Synchrotron) Group, including Frank Goward, John Adams, Mervyn Hine, John and Hildred Blewett, Kjell Johnsen and Edouard Regenstreif, arrived to start work in offices that had been made available at the University of Geneva's Institute of Physics. In the same month plans were made to convert the Villa de Cointrin (see photo), which later became the first headquarters for the CERN Directorate, Administration and Finance Groups. The building was currently empty and in need of repair, and was being offered for an annual rent of around 3,000 CHF.

Thu, 23/01/2014 - 10:35
...60 years ago
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...60 years ago October 1954 – the new CERN Council

When the CERN Convention was signed in 1953, it was assumed that the long-awaited European laboratory would soon become a reality. But ratification formalities took longer than expected. Meanwhile work on the ground was forging ahead, so it was a relief for the interim governors when the new CERN Council finally took office some 15 months later.


An important item at the first Council meeting on 7-8 October 1954 was the transfer of all assets and liabilities of the interim organization. Council officers and senior CERN staff were also appointed, various procedural, financial and staff questions settled, and a provisional organizational structure adopted. This structure was approved at the second meeting in February 1955 (shown in photo) along with the headquarters agreement with Switzerland. CERN was finally starting to take shape! If you’re interested to know more, the minutes of the first meeting are available here.

Wed, 29/10/2014 - 13:14
...60 years ago September 1954 – CERN exists!

A telegram from Jean Mussard informed Edoardo Amaldi (Secretary-General of the provisional CERN) that the CERN Convention had finally come into force on 29 September, when France and Germany deposited their instruments of ratification at UNESCO House in Paris.


Three more member states were yet to ratify – this took another five months – but the necessary conditions had now been met. The provisional Council ceased to exist and, after a few days during which Amaldi was the sole owner of all CERN’s assets, the new organization held its first meeting in Geneva on the 7-8 October 1954.

Wed, 29/10/2014 - 13:12
...31 years ago
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...31 years ago August 1983 – His Holiness the Dalai Lama visits CERN

CERN is a centre for scientific research, but also a place for exchanges between science and other fields of human culture and understanding. The visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on 30 August 1983 provided just such an opportunity.


In the morning he and his delegation of monks toured some of CERN’s facilities, including UA1, where the recent discovery of the W and Z bosons had taken place. After joining the visitors for lunch, some of CERN’s physicists gave short presentations on various aspects of CERN’s work, and a discussion explored the different viewpoints of Buddhists and physicists on a range of topics of mutual interest.

Wed, 29/10/2014 - 13:08
...61 years ago
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...61 years ago July 1953 – Signing the CERN Convention

After long months of negotiation - success! The work of the provisional Council responsible for planning the new international laboratory for nuclear physics reached a successful conclusion on 1 July 1953 with the signature of the CERN Convention.

The drafting committee and the administrative and financial working group had worked at UNESCO House throughout the week leading up the Council’s sixth meeting in Paris (29-30 June) to finalize the document, and signature took place the next day at a conference held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Delegates of nine countries signed, with the remaining three expressing their intention to do so shortly.

The convention was gradually ratified by the 12 founding member states (Belgium, Denmark, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Yugoslavia) and the European Organization for Nuclear Research officially came into being on 29 September 1954. The text of the Convention is available here.

Wed, 29/10/2014 - 13:16
...61 years ago August 1952 – Redesigning the Proton Synchrotron

Too often trip reports are just boring administrative documents, but this one caused a radical rethink of the design for CERN’s Proton Synchrotron. Suddenly a relatively straightforward engineering challenge became a development project for an untested idea.

Plans were already underway for CERN’s large accelerator, a scaled-up version of Brookhaven’s Cosmotron, when Odd Dahl, Frank Goward and Rolf Wideröe visited Brookhaven in 1952. There they joined in discussions about a new strong-focusing (or alternating gradient focusing) technique, which meant smaller magnets could be used to guide particles round an accelerator provided they were arranged with their field gradients facing alternately inwards and outwards instead of the conventional outward-facing alignment. Dahl recommended laying aside plans for a 10 GeV accelerator for the time being in order to investigate the idea further (CERN-PS-S4).

It was a risky decision to follow this unexplored route, but one that paid off by allowing construction of a much more powerful machine at little extra cost. When the Proton Synchrotron came into operation in November 1959 it had an energy of 24 GeV, later increased to 28 GeV.

Thu, 23/01/2014 - 10:05
...61 years ago February 1952 – CERN is born, mother and child are doing well “We have just signed the Agreement which constitutes the official birth of the project you fathered at Florence. Mother and child are doing well, and the doctors send you their greetings.” This was the message sent to Isidor Rabi on 15 Feb 1952 by the signatories of an agreement establishing the provisional European Council for Nuclear Research.    Scientists and politicians had been pressing for the creation of a European laboratory to pool resources depleted after World War Two, and Nobel laureate Rabi added his support at the fifth UNESCO General Conference (Florence, June 1950), where he tabled a resolution to “assist and encourage the formation of regional research centres and laboratories in order to increase and make more fruitful the international collaboration of scientists…”     The first resolution concerning the establishment of a European Council for Nuclear Research was adopted at an intergovernmental meeting of UNESCO in Paris in December 1951. The provisional Council, set up in 1952, was dissolved when the European Organization for Nuclear Research officially came into being in 1954, though the acronym CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire) was retained. Thu, 14/03/2013 - 11:16
...59 years ago
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...59 years ago June 1955 – Laying the foundation stone of CERN

“On this tenth day of June, one thousand nine hundred and fifty five, on ground generously given by the Republic and Canton of Geneva, was laid the foundation stone of the buildings of the headquarters and the laboratories of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, the first European institution devoted to co-operative research for the advancement of pure science”

The stone was laid by the organization’s first Director-General, Felix Bloch, and speeches referred to the challenge of setting up the new laboratory, the cooperation and goodwill that had made it possible and a vision for the future.  The headquarters agreement with the Swiss Federation was signed the following morning, and in the afternoon the grounds of CERN were thrown open to the public. Construction had started long before the foundation stone, of course, so there was already plenty for visitors to see, and staff were on hand to act as guides. Want to know more? The commemorative booklet for the Foundation Stone Ceremony and the Open Day flyer are available here

Wed, 29/10/2014 - 13:16
...59 years ago May 1954 – Construction of CERN begins A historic moment passed almost unnoticed on 17 May 1954, as the first excavation work started in the Meyrin countryside and construction of CERN began. Future events of this kind were celebrated with speeches, press coverage and parties, but this was a quiet and purely unofficial ceremony.   Geneva had been chosen as the site for the proposed laboratory in October 1952 and approved by a referendum in the canton of Geneva in June 1953, but CERN’s status was provisional until completion of the ratification process at the end of September 1954. Nonetheless, CERN staff were already hard at work, and those based locally (at the Institut de Physique and Villa Cointrin) assembled in Meyrin along with representatives of the Genevan authorities and the chairman of the provisional CERN Council, Robert Valeur, to watch work begin on their new home.   Thu, 02/05/2013 - 09:48
...51 years ago
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...51 years ago May 1963 – The lighter side of neutrino experiments

A buzz of excitement marked the start of neutrino experiments at CERN in 1963. As many years of hard work were about to be put to the test, this spoof advertisement appeared on the concrete shielding near the heavy liquid bubble chamber.

CERN inventions such as the fast ejection system, proposed in 1959 by Berend Kuiper and Günther Plass, and the magnetic horn, which earned Simon van der Meer his share of the Nobel prize for physics in 1984, had enabled CERN to produce the most intense beam of neutrinos in the world. The first run in June was anxiously awaited, but everything ran smoothly. During seven weeks a total of 4000 events were observed in the spark chamber and 360 in the bubble chamber, comparing very favourably with the 56 spark chamber events found in the previous neutrino experiment in Brookhaven

Wed, 29/10/2014 - 13:17
...50 years ago
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...50 years ago April 1964 – CERN Open Day!

If you were one of the estimated 70,000 visitors to CERN during the 2013 Open Days – or one of the 2,000+ volunteers busily organizing visits, games and all manner of weird and wonderful activities – you might not recognize this photo! Fifty years ago CERN’s Open Days were conducted on a much more modest scale.

Limited to families and guests of staff, CERN’s third Open Day on 25 April 1964 welcomed 1,100 visitors. Various CERN departments displayed their laboratories and equipment, and a kindergarten looked after the youngest visitors while their parents toured the site. A technical press day was also arranged on 19 May, with 36 visiting journalists. CERN’s Public Information Office reported good coverage of CERN’s activities during the year, despite “the general disinterest of the daily press in basic science”.

Wed, 29/10/2014 - 13:15
...55 years ago
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...55 years ago March 1959 – preparing CERN’s HBC30 bubble chamber for testing

The 30cm liquid hydrogen bubble chamber (HBC30) - here seen being inserted into its vacuum tank in March 1959 - was the first bubble chamber to be used for physics experiments at CERN. After testing with nitrogen and hydrogen it was placed in the Synchro-Cyclotron, and its first five days of operation in November yielded 100,000 photographs. In March 1960 it was moved to the proton Synchrotron, and by the time it ceased operations in spring 1962 it had consumed 150 km of film.


Bubble chambers were one of the main experimental tools used in high-energy physics during the 1950s and 1960s. They were filled with superheated liquid, and if a charged high-energy particle passed through the liquid started to boil along its path, producing a trail of tiny bubbles that could be photographed. CERN’s first bubble chamber was a small (10cm) trial model, developed to test this exciting new technique. Larger models soon followed, including the giantess Gargamelle and the Big European Bubble Chamber (BEBC).

Wed, 29/10/2014 - 13:17
...48 years ago
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...48 years ago February 1966 – A CERN stamp

On 21 February 1966 the Swiss Postal Authorities issued a 50 centime postage stamp in honour of CERN. Five Swiss artists visited CERN and were shown around the site, then each presented two designs. The judges selected a design by H. Kumpel showing the flags of the thirteen Member States of CERN superimposed on a bubble chamber photograph. The flags are arranged to represent the approximate outline of the Swiss border.


A further commemorative stamp was produced by France in 1977 for the inauguration of the Super Proton Synchrotron, and another Swiss stamp marked CERN’s 50th anniversary in 2004.

Mon, 03/02/2014 - 09:27
...48 years ago December 1964 – Fun and games at the traditional CERN Christmas party The tradition of holding a Christmas party for CERN children began in the first year of CERN’s existence and still continues. In the early 1960s it was decided to hold two parties, so there would be room to invite non-CERN children from the neighbouring districts as well. In 1964 (on 6 December for those with names from A to K, and 13 December for the rest) children aged between 4 and 12 years old enjoyed a film, a conjurer and musical clowns, followed by refreshments. Transport was arranged for those requiring it, and parents were informed that although they would not be admitted to the party itself, arrangement had been made to keep the bar open for those wishing to remain during the festivities -  Happy Christmas!     Thu, 14/03/2013 - 09:47
...86 years ago
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...86 years ago January 1928 – Wolfgang Pauli appointed professor at ETH Zürich

Despite some reservations about his lecturing style, Wolfgang Pauli was appointed professor of theoretical physics at the ETH, Zürich, on 10 January 1928. He started on 1 April at a basic annual salary of 15,000 francs.

Pauli’s lectures could sometimes be challenging. The equations in this photo (taken in Copenhagen in 1929) look fairly legible, but K. Alex Müller recalls his habit of standing at the centre of the blackboard and writing equations around himself, almost in circles, rather than horizontally. Students in the ETH’s famous lecture room 6c tended to sit in two groups, to his left and his right, in order to be able to see round him! Markus Fierz considered Pauli the sort of teacher whose defect it is to think about their subject while lecturing; consequently, the listener participates in a sort of soliloquy which, since it is not really addressed to him, is sometimes barely intelligible. But - Fierz added - this taught the student, above all, to think critically about a theory.

Thu, 23/01/2014 - 09:59
...86 years ago September 1927 – The Como congress

Wolfgang Pauli, Werner Heisenberg and Enrico Fermi relax on Lake Como during the 1927 International Conference on Physics.

The 1927 conference (held in Como to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of Alessandro Volta) is famous for Niels Bohr’s first presentation of his ideas on complementarity. His lecture “The Quantum Postulate and the Recent Development of Atomic Theory” became the basis of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics; a fuller version was presented at the Fifth Solvay Conference (Brussels) in October. Bohr had discussed his ideas with colleagues both before and after these conferences, and Pauli was particularly involved in the preparation of the final manuscript.

Thu, 23/01/2014 - 10:32
...67 years ago
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...67 years ago December 1946 – Pauli travels to Sweden to receive the Nobel prize

The date on this menu for Wolfgang Pauli’s Nobel prize festivities is 1946, yet he was awarded the physics prize for his exclusion principle in 1945. In a letter to Niels Bohr (25 November 1945) he explains the delay:


“Dear Bohr! It was a great exciting surprise that the Nobel prize was awarded to me this year although I had thought already a week earlier, when the congratulation telegramm of you and your wife arrived, that it was a good omen … The decision, whether or not I should go to Stockholm on December 10 was really not easy. The American authorities kindly offered me exit and re-enter permits for a trip to Stockholm and back for this very particular purpose. Considering all circumstances of the present situation, particularly the possibility of a delay by such a trip of my getting naturalized, I finally decided to postpone my participation in the ceremony in Stockholm to next year after having heard that Stern and Rabi are doing the same…”


Pauli was working in the USA during the war, and US naturalization was particularly important to him because his application for Swiss nationality had been turned down in 1938 and was not granted until 1949.

Mon, 02/12/2013 - 15:59
...54 years ago
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...54 years ago November 1959 – The Proton Synchrotron is up and running

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world’s biggest and most powerful particle accelerator, but for a few months in 1959 the Proton Synchrotron (PS) shared the same distinction.

The PS reached its full design energy of 24 GeV (later increased to 28 GeV) during the night of 24 November 1959, and the following morning project leader John Adams announced the achievement to staff in CERN’s main auditorium. In this photo he holds a vodka bottle that he had been given during a trip to the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna with instructions that the contents should be drunk when CERN passed the Russian Synchrophasotron’s world-record energy of 10 GeV. The bottle in his hand contains a photo of the 24 GeV pulse ready to be sent back to the Soviet Union!

Thu, 23/01/2014 - 10:01
...56 years ago
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...56 years ago October 1957 – Closure of CERN’s Theoretical Study Division in Copenhagen

During the construction of CERN in the 1950s, most staff were lodged in temporary offices nearby. But the theoretical physics group (one of three study groups set up in 1952 as part of the ‘provisional CERN’) began life at the Theoretical Physics Institute, University of Copenhagen. Niels Bohr led the group until September 1954, then handed over to Christian Møller. The photo shows CERN’s Director General Cornelius Bakker signing an agreement on the legal status of the group in Denmark in 1956.

It was always intended that the group would relocate back to the main CERN site over a period of five years, and the first theorists came to Geneva in 1954. They were based first at the University of Geneva, then in barracks near the airport, before finally moving to the new site in Meyrin. The Theory Group in Copenhagen officially closed on 1 October 1957.

Thu, 23/01/2014 - 10:03
...57 years ago
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...57 years ago July 1956 – Birth of the CERN fire brigade

Safety is top priority in any scientific research laboratory, and fire prevention was an important issue from the earliest days of CERN. The newly constructed buildings were fitted with smoke detectors, and voluntary fire brigades and first aid teams were set up among staff members.


The appointment of CERN’s first fire service chief, Pierre Vosdey, in July 1956 marked the start of the professional firefighting service that CERN enjoys today. Experienced firemen were recruited, who trained more volunteers. The service expanded during 1957, providing 24-hour cover and acquiring a fire engine, an ambulance, a 14 metre ladder, a motor pump, smoke detectors and 250 fire extinguishers. This photo shows some of the team in 1959. Today the CERN fire brigade has around 50 members and continues to work closely with the Swiss and French fire services to ensure safety on-site.

Thu, 23/01/2014 - 10:30
...57 years ago June 1956 – Neutrinos detected at last!

On 14 June 1956 a telegram from Frederick Reines and Clyde Cowan informed Wolfgang Pauli that neutrinos had been detected from fission fragments - nearly 26 years after Pauli first postulated the neutral particle as a solution to the missing energy during beta decay.


Pauli had outlined his theory in a letter to the ‘Dear radioactive ladies and gentlemen’ at the Tübingen conference in December 1930, excusing his own absence from the conference on the grounds that he had to go to a dance in Zürich. The name “neutrino” was coined by Enrico Fermi in 1933.


Apparently Pauli’s reply to the telegram did not arrive, so it survives only in the form of the draft sent by a secretary - Pauli simply says “Thanks for message. Everything comes to him who knows how to wait.”

Thu, 23/01/2014 - 10:33
...81 years ago
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...81 years ago April 1932 – The Copenhagen Faustparodie Among the scientific documents in CERN’s Wolfgang Pauli Archive is a rather unusual item – a copy of the script parodying Goethe’s Faust performed at the Niels Bohr Institute conference, 3-13 April 1932. Written mostly by Max Delbrück, and decorated with caricatures of the protagonists, the skit features Pauli (Mephistopheles) trying to sell the idea of the neutrino (Gretchen) to a sceptical Paul Ehrenfest (Faust)!   Pauli had postulated the existence of this weightless particle in his famous letter to the ‘Dear radioactive ladies and gentlemen’ at the Tübingen conference in December 1930, but he had to wait until 1956 for experimental confirmation by Reines and Cowan, so in 1932 it was still the subject of debate. Pauli’s reputation for sharp wit made him ideal for his satanic rôle, but in his absence the part was played by Léon Rosenfeld. The rôle of God was assigned to Bohr. The script (in German), can be seen here. An English translation is given in George Gamow’s Thirty Years that Shook Physics. Thu, 02/05/2013 - 09:47
...24 years ago
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...24 years ago March 1989 – First outline of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee made a first proposal for information management at CERN in March 1989. A later version was written in 1990, but this early document is particularly interesting because it includes annotations by his boss, Mike Sendall, whose general comment was ‘Vague but exciting…’! The project eventually grew to become the World Wide Web.     In this document Berners-Lee outlined the problems of losing information at CERN, the advantages of linked information and hypertext and the practical requirements of his idea. He proposed ‘a universal linked information system, in which generality and portability are more important than fancy graphics techniques and complex extra facilities. The aim of the project would be to allow a place to be found for putting any information or reference which one felt was important, and a way of finding it afterwards.’ With the help of Robert Cailliau and others he was able to make the dream a reality. Thu, 02/05/2013 - 09:44
...42 years ago
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...42 years ago January 1971 – the world’s first proton-proton collider The scene is the control room of the Intersecting Storage Rings (ISR) on 27 January 1971. Kjell Johnsen, leader of the ISR construction team, has just announced successful recording of the first ever interactions from colliding proton beams. It was a triumphant moment, not least because the ISR had been an ambitious and highly controversial project, with several years of heated debate preceding its final unanimous approval by the CERN council in June 1965.   The interconnected rings, 300 metres in diameter and fed from the Proton Synchrotron (PS), ran from March 1971 until December 1983. At the official inauguration on 16 October 1871, Werner Heisenberg handed the President of the CERN council, Edoardo Amaldi, a golden key that controlled the transfer of protons from the PS to the ISR, symbolizing their hopes that the new machine would be the key to a thorough understanding of the world of elementary particle physics. He said such a symbolic key should first be in the hands of the experimentalists.  At the closure ceremony on 26 June 1984, the key was formally handed back to the theorists, in the person of Viktor Weisskopf. Thu, 02/05/2013 - 09:49
... 67 years ago
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... 67 years ago November 1945 - Wolfgang Pauli learns that he has been awarded the Nobel Prize Wolfgang Pauli was awarded the 1945 Nobel Prize for Physics for his Exclusion Principle. When he received the telegram from Arne Westgren (15 November 1945) Pauli was working at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, having left Europe for the USA during World War 2. Pauli was the first resident member of the Institute to receive a Nobel  Prize; his Princeton colleagues greeted it with great enthusiasm and the Director organised a large official ceremony. Unexpectedly, after speeches by various distinguished guests, Albert Einstein rose to give an impromptu address, referring to Pauli as his intellectual successor. Pauli was deeply touched by this speech, recalling it in a letter to Max Born 10 years later (24 April 1955), and regretting that, since it had been entirely spontaneous, no record of it remained. Thu, 14/03/2013 - 09:48
... 29 years ago
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... 29 years ago September 1983 - Speeches from the Swiss and French presidents at the LEP ground-breaking ceremony CERN staff and their families were joined by numerous distinguished guests for the official ceremony that launched civil engineering work for the Large Electron-Positron (LEP) collider project on 13 September 1983. Speeches by Herwig Schopper (CERN’s Director-General) and Presidents François Mitterrand and Pierre Aubert were followed by an inaugural ceremony then music and celebrations on the lawn.   With a circumference of 27 km, LEP was the largest electron-positron accelerator ever built, and excavation of the LEP tunnel was Europe's largest civil-engineering project prior to the Channel Tunnel. LEP operated for 11 years from July 1989 until its closure on 2 November 2000 to make way for construction of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in the same tunnel. Thu, 02/05/2013 - 09:51
... 55 years ago
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... 55 years ago August 1957 - The first circulating beam in the Synchrocyclotron A log book entry written by Wolfgang Gentner, the head of SC Division, and signed by various colleagues, tells us that ‘a short celebration’ was held on the 1st of August 1957 following the successful  appearance of the first circulating beam.   The 600 MeV Synchrocyclotron (SC)  was CERN’s first accelerator and provided beams for its earliest particle and nuclear physics experiments.  It was a remarkably long-lived machine, even when superseded by the larger Proton Synchrotron, and operated for 33 years before being decommissioned in December 1990. Work is currently underway to give the SC a new lease of life as an exhibition area and visitor attraction.   Thu, 02/05/2013 - 09:51
... 38 years ago
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... 38 years ago July 1974 - Completion of the SPS tunnel A team photo celebrates  the completion of the SPS tunnel in July 1974. The Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS) was the first of CERN’s giant accelerators. It was also the first cross-border accelerator. Excavation took around two years, and on 31 July 1974 the Robbins tunnel-boring machine returned to its starting point having crossed the Franco-Swiss border and excavated a tunnel with a circumference of 7 kilometres and an average depth of 40 metres below the surface.   The SPS was commissioned in 1976, and a highlight of its career came in 1983 with the announcement of the Nobel Prize-winning discovery of W and Z particles. Thu, 02/05/2013 - 09:52
... 56 years ago
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... 56 years ago June 1956 - Wolfgang Pauli at the 6th meeting of Nobel Prize winners

The 6th meeting of Nobel Prize laureates, held in Lindau from 25 to 29 June 1956, was devoted to physics.  In attendance were 23 Nobel laureates and 124 young researchers. The Lindau meetings  began in 1951, and provide a unique platform for dialogue between different scientific generations.  This year’s meeting (1 to 6 July 2012) will also be dedicated to physics, with more than 25 Nobel laureates and 550 young scientists from all over the world.


Wolfgang Pauli won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1945 for his Exclusion Principle. His scientific archive is held at CERN.

Wed, 05/11/2014 - 17:03

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