An interview with the DG

Head of communications James Gillies finds out how Director-General Rolf Heuer is getting on as council extends his mandate by 2 years

At its March meeting, the Council took the step of extending Rolf Heuer’s mandate until the end of 2015. What can we expect from the extra two years?

Extensions to Director-General’s mandates are few and far between, with the last being for Herwig Schopper, who served an eight-year term in the 1980s. For Rolf Heuer, the proposal was raised by the Belgian delegation, so we asked delegate Walter Van Doninck why the Council felt that circumstances warranted an extension now. “We felt that the LHC's first long shutdown needed management continuity, given the important nature of the work to be carried out,” he explained. “That’s why we proposed extending the mandate of the current Director-General.” James Gillies spoke to Professor Heuer to find out what he plans to achieve with the extra time.

James Gillies: First of all, how do you feel about your time in office so far?

Rolf Heuer: I feel I’m about midway! Seriously, I think this organisation has achieved a lot in the last three years, and I’m reasonably happy with the initiatives we’ve launched, but there’s still work to be done in areas as diverse as the research programme, which is always top of my mind, opening to new members, and capitalising on the LHC’s public and media visibility for the benefit of science as a whole.

JG: Where would you like CERN to be at the end of your mandate?

RH: I’d like to leave a well functioning accelerator complex with a broad spectrum of research and a 15-year LHC programme getting underway. To make sure this happens, we need to ensure that our infrastructure is up to the task, so I’d like to see the consolidation process reach maturity. I’d like to see a clear vision emerging for the next global project in particle physics, with the European Strategy update making a contribution to this. I also hope that CERN will have made a big step forward concerning Membership and Associate Membership.

JG: How much of your time do you expect to spend visiting prospective new members?

RH: I’m anticipating a considerable amount of travel over the next one or two years to pave the way. After that, I hope the process will be well in hand.

JG: How do you see CERN’s relationship with other major particle physics labs developing?

RH: We have a very good relationship with the other major players, and I see that relationship getting closer over the coming years. If a country chooses to become a Member or an Associate Member of CERN, that doesn’t prevent it from participating in programmes at other labs. Nor does it prevent CERN playing a major role in global projects elsewhere if that’s the way things develop. As Director-General of CERN, however, I would not be doing my job if I didn’t make the case for CERN to host a post-LHC facility.

JG: What are your expectations for the long shutdown?

RH: The first priority, of course, is to get the LHC ready for higher energy running, and this is a huge task. In 2013, we will not be running our accelerator chain, since all manpower is needed for the LHC. That said, I want to ensure that we make the best of the long shutdown to ensure sustained interest in CERN, and to set the scene for the lab’s 60th anniversary in 2014, which I hope will be celebrated in all our Member States. I also hope that people will use the shutdown to think of how we can do more with the non-LHC programme.

JG: Is the world’s financial situation a worry for you?

RH: Each time I give an interview or a talk, I’m asked about the economic crisis and its impact on CERN. That’s why we need to work extra hard to make the benefits of our research known, and to ensure that the load is more evenly spread through the process of opening to new members.

JG: You’ve put a lot of emphasis on public engagement. Is there still work to be done on this front?

RH: Apart from the purely altruistic reasons for engaging with the public, this question is intricately linked to the last one. People’s lives increasingly depend on science, and the resolution of many of society’s problems rests on complex political and scientific issues. If we’re to succeed, we have to make science an integral part of society.

JG: Will there be any changes to your management structure?

RH: We have a good team in place with a mandate to the end of 2013. The current structure works well, so I don’t foresee any immediate changes. And as the Council said, we need continuity, so any changes will be evolutionary not revolutionary. Management stability is needed at this important moment in CERN’s history.

JG: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

RH: I’d like to thank the CERN community for its continuing dedication to the task. I’m often asked how we manage such large communities with such flat management structures, and the answer is simple: when you’ve got a group of highly motivated people all going the same way, it makes the job easy. I’d also like to say that I hope my mandate will be marked by openness in communication, and in that spirit, I’d like to renew my invitation to CERN people to let me know, via the Bulletin, what subjects they’d like me to cover in my regular messages from the DG. I can’t guarantee to cover everything, but I will do my best.