CERN History: Giant magnets come to CERN in the 1950s

Archive footage from Ciné Journal Suisse showing the transportation of a Synchrocyclotron magnet coil on its way from Basel, Switzerland, to CERN, passing through the narrow streets of the Swiss villages Morat and Coppet (video: Ciné Journal Suisse)

In the year when CERN turns 60, it is fitting to look back at some of the key historic moments. In the video above, from 1955, a magnet coil for the Synchrocyclotron (SC) makes an epic journey to Geneva, Switzerland. Two coils were needed for the SC, each weighing 60 tonnes and measuring 7.2 metres in diameter. They were manufactured in Belgium before travelling to Basel in Switzerland by boat and continuing by road to Geneva. The first coil reached Geneva in December 1955, with the second following in early 1956.

A special trailer with a hydraulic mechanism tilted the coil whenever the road became too narrow, such as through the village streets of Coppet and Morat, as seen in the video above. Such a spectacular sight had never before been seen in the region, and it was the first in a long series of epic transport operations that have marked the history of CERN. 

The final stretch of the coil’s journey as it travels up the Route de Meyrin to CERN. Today, perched on the hill, only the church tower of the village of Meyrin unites the image of the dusty road with today’s cars and tram lines (Images: CERN)

The Synchrocyclotron, CERN’s first accelerator, was up and running by 1957 and operated until 1990. Recently refurbished, and previewed at the CERN open days last year, the synchrocyclotron will soon become a permanent exhibit at CERN.

Find out more about what CERN has planned for the 60th celebrations: