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 “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.

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Personal names are neither unique nor permanent. You can write or transcribe them in different ways. You can get married and change your family name. You can even find colleagues in HEP with the same name, e.g. John Smith. What happens when the John Smith you are looking for writes a paper? How do you Read More →

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.  

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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…”

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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).

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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.

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