The 1980s: spurring collaboration

Former CERN Director-General Herwig Schopper recalls a decade of growth at CERN


The 1980s were characterized by two outstanding achievements that were to influence the long-term future of CERN. First came the discovery of the W and Z particles, the carriers of the weak force, produced in proton–antiproton collisions at the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS) and detected by the UA1 and UA2 experiments. These were the first, now-typical collider experiments, covering the full solid angle and requiring large groups of collaborators from many countries. The production of a sufficient number of antiprotons and their handling in the SPS underlaid these successes, which were crowned by the Nobel Prize awarded to Carlo Rubbia and Simon van der Meer in 1984.

Then came the construction and commissioning of the Large Electron Positron (LEP) collider. With its 27-kilometre tunnel, it is still the largest collider of this kind ever built. Four experiments were approved – ALEPH, DELPHI, L3 and OPAL – representing again a new step in international co-operation. More than 2000 physicists and engineers from 12 member states and 22 non-member states participated in the experiments. Moreover, most of the funding of several hundred million Swiss francs had to come from outside the organization. CERN contributed only about 10% and had practically no reserves in case of financial overruns. Therefore the collaborations had to achieve a certain independence, and had to learn to accept common responsibilities. A new "sociology" for international scientific cooperation was born, which later became a model for the LHC experiments.

Read the rest of this article: "The 1980s: spurring collaboration" – CERN Courier