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Science Gateway will bring people closer to CERN

The construction of the project is planned to kickstart later this year, a crucial step towards CERN’s dream emblem of science communication


Renzo Piano sharing his vision for the Science Gateway project during its launch last year (Image: CERN)

From fundraising to civil engineering to developing exhibitions and educational content, several teams across CERN are working in full swing to bring Science Gateway come to life. The project has encountered many challenges over the past year since its launch, but the commencement of building work is now in sight.

The overall cost of the Science Gateway project will be funded entirely through donations. A leading contribution of 45 million Swiss francs from the FCA Foundation has made it possible to request a building permit for the project.

“On 28 October last year, the request to obtain the building permit for the project was submitted,” said Frédéric Magnin, who has been a civil engineer at CERN for ten years and is in charge of the construction part of the project.

He adds, “One major challenge was the requalification of the agricultural land into constructible land and building close to the Route de Meyrin, which is classed as a transport infrastructure for dangerous materials.”

With such hurdles overcome, the construction phase of the project is not far off.

“Construction will start after the building permit has been delivered; this is expected to happen this autumn,” says Patrick Geeraert, Science Gateway project leader.

But Science Gateway is not just another addition to CERN’s list of 711 buildings.

CERN receives requests for guided tours for over 300 000 visitors every year but is able to accommodate fewer than half of them. The fact that all of the Organization’s training and educational activities have always been over-subscribed gave rise to the idea that it should expand and diversify its portfolio of education, communication and outreach activities for experts and non-experts alike on a much grander level.

Science Gateway is the materialisation of a vision to, in CERN Director-General Fabiola Gianotti’s words, “share with everybody the fascination of exploring and learning how matter and the universe work, the advanced technologies we need to develop in order to build our ambitious instruments and their impact on society, and how science can influence our daily life.”

It will build and expand on the previous plans to integrate the Globe of Science and Innovation into a more functional environment, well suited to receiving visitors – both experts and non-experts alike. The 900-seat, modular auditorium of the new building will, for example, be a well-suited venue for scientific meetings and conferences.

But the search for an architect who matched the vision of Science Gateway was not an easy one.

As luck would have it, when the world-renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano visited Switzerland, he instantly fell in love with the core values of CERN.

“If there is anything I can ever do for CERN, please let me know,” he said after his visit.

It was not long after that that the baton to design the Science Gateway was given to Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW). But what architectural wonder could outdo a place where lies the biggest science marvel of the world itself, the Large Hadron Collider?

The elements of Science Gateway are inspired by the most advanced research that furthers our understanding of the origins of the universe. With the use of geothermal energy for heating and cooling, nearly 2000 square metres of solar panels, and more than 400 trees being planted, Science Gateway wants to truly stand for sustainability – aiming to have a carbon footprint of net-zero. The large, airy glass walls of the buildings signify openness and transparency, one of Science Gateway’s main goals, and the bridge over the Route de Meyrin will dominate the brand-new Esplanade des Particules, symbolising an inseparable link between science and society.

“It is a bridge, in the metaphorical and real sense, and a building fed by the energy of the sun, nestling in the midst of a newly grown forest,” said Piano.

But the road to bringing CERN closer to people is a two-way street. At present, the potential to make Science Gateway come true lies mostly with scientists, engineers, architects, communicators and donors; however, once the project is established, it will need more and more active participation from the public. People from all backgrounds will be encouraged to contribute as volunteers, visitors or even citizen scientists, to create a truly diverse learning atmosphere at CERN’s dream emblem of science communication.

To make this possible, the communication teams at CERN will continue to give insights into the planned exhibitions and educational content of the project as we embark further on the journey towards its completion.

Science Gateway is scheduled to be inaugurated at the end of 2023.