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European Particles

CERN: A Powerful Accelerator of European Integration

Guy Wormser was the Associate Scientific Director of the National Institute of Nuclear and Particle Physics (IN2P3) 1, an institute of the CNRS. Here he recounts for Thema readers the central role CERN and its particle research played in the emergence of a common European science policy, even before the birth of the European Community.

What led to the birth of CERN?

vue aérienne du CERN


Aerial view of CERN showing the path of the LEP tunnel of the future LHC.

Guy Wormser: A clear desire to rebuild Europe emerged from the post-WWII context.  As early as 1949 Nobel physics laureate Louis de Broglie proposed the creation of a European scientific laboratory with the resources needed to become competitive once again with the United States. In 1954 the European Center for Nuclear Research, or CERN as it came to be called, became a reality thanks to a joint decision by the founding States of Belgium, Denmark, the Federal Republic of Germany, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Yugoslavia (which would leave the organisation in 1961 for political reasons). CERN is an international organisation based on intergovernmental accords. Even its physical structure is international as it runs underneath the French/Swiss border. The entry price for membership is a fixed percentage of GDP, the same percentage for all members. Meanwhile each member has one voice on CERN's Council.

How quickly did CERN acquire additional members?
G.W. Soon after CERN's founding, Austria (1959) and then Spain (1961) joined the organisation as it was clear that the costs of particle physics research are far too high for one nation to bear. Portugal came on board in 1986 and Finland followed suite in 1991, the same year that the first of the former Soviet bloc countries, Poland, joined. For Eastern bloc nations the sum of money needed for membership is very consequential, and joining has a positive effect on their scientific community in general as it forces these countries to raise their research budgets overall.  Hungary followed Poland in 1992, the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993, and Bulgaria in 1999, becoming members of CERN before members of the European Union. Romania will likely join in the near future. For all of these nations, membership represents a significant political act.

What's next for CERN's development?
G.W. CERN now has 20 member States and five States enjoy the status of observer: Israel, Japan, Russia, Turkey, and the United States. UNESCO and the European Union also have observer status. This adds up to 6,500 physicists participating in CERN research projects, of which nearly 1,800 come from non-member nations. For most member nations, CERN represents nearly all of their particle physics research. The third wave of new participants in CERN is occurring as a new facility, the LHC2 – approved in 1993 and slated for startup in 2007, gets off the ground. Countries like China, India, Morocco, Pakistan and Azerbaijan are already participating in this program. In this way, CERN is a locus of cooperation even among countries that do not get along very well politically.

1/IN2P3 conducts a very large number of experiments at CERN
2/ View web site Thema - The LHC is on a collision course with matter




Guy Wormser
Institut national de physique nucléaire et de physique des particules

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