A celebration of science for peace

At the start of CERN’s 60th anniversary year, the current director-general looks at the organization’s role in bringing nations together


On 29 September 1954, the European Organization for Nuclear Research officially came into being, after the convention to establish the organization had been ratified by a sufficient number of the 12 founding member states. Since then, CERN has in many ways become a model for what Europe can do when it unites, bridging nationalities and bringing different cultures together to work towards a common goal.

During the past 60 years, CERN has grown to become a world-leading physics laboratory, fulfilling the dreams of its founders as summarized in the convention, which states that "The Organization shall provide for collaboration among European States in nuclear research of a pure scientific and fundamental character, and in research essentially related thereto. The Organization shall have no concern with work for military requirements and the results of its experimental and theoretical work shall be published or otherwise made generally available." The convention goes on to assert that, in addition to the construction of accelerators, experiments and infrastructure, the basic programme should encompass international co-operation in research, along with the promotion of contact between scientists, training of scientists and dissemination of knowledge across borders.

Times have changed, but the spirit of openness and peaceful collaboration enshrined in the visionary words of the convention continues to shape CERN to this day. The nature of the laboratory’s research has gone far beyond the atomic nucleus to encompass the basic particles of matter and how they interact through fundamental forces to form the fabric of the universe. The organization’s collaboration now extends far beyond the boundaries of Europe, as scientists and engineers from around the world work together at CERN – and those from CERN contribute to projects around the world. The dissemination of information, education and training also continue to be key guiding factors in the programme today – all in the spirit of the convention. Knowledge gained through the laboratory’s frontier research is made available for applications that benefit society. CERN schools held in many different countries allow a new generation of scientists and engineers not only to learn about frontier research but also to form friendships across national boundaries.

As we advance further into the 21st century, the organization is still going strong and maintaining its attraction of international scientific collaboration. It has grown steadily since 1954, with the latest country to join – Israel – bringing the total number of member states to 21. Other countries are in the stages leading up to becoming members or associates and still others are expressing interest. CERN is becoming a global success, while retaining its original, European flavour.

This year’s events for the 60th anniversary will celebrate the theme of international collaboration. In particular, there will be activities in all of the member states, reflecting the fact that CERN is their laboratory. While the main celebration at CERN will be on 29 September – the exact anniversary of when the organization came into being – an earlier event will take place at the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris on 1 July. CERN was born under the umbrella of UNESCO, and it was in Paris on that day in 1953 that the convention was signed.

What drives this huge collaborative effort is, of course, the science – the fundamental physics remains as exciting as ever and continues to attract people to CERN, from bright young scientists and engineers to the general public of all ages and from all walks of life. The discovery of a new particle at the LHC and the confirmation last year that it was indeed a Higgs boson, emissary of the Brout–Englert–Higgs mechanism that endows fundamental particles with mass, has been the latest success – and a major reward for the effort, in many countries, that went into the design, construction and running of the LHC and its experiments. The award of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics to François Englert and Peter Higgs (Robert Brout sadly passed away in 2011), which recognized the importance of this key piece of fundamental physics, was a marvellous early 60th birthday present.

The result of more than two decades of effort by thousands of scientists and engineers from around the world, this discovery exemplifies the collaborative nature of research at CERN. It also reflects the freedom to work together with open minds towards a common goal – a freedom that has underpinned advances in science throughout the ages. This freedom to think and to communicate was prominent in the minds of those who came together more than 60 years ago to establish an organization in which fundamental science could flourish. Thanks to the work of the many people who have been involved with the organization since then, I believe that CERN has more than fulfilled the hopes and dreams of advancing science for peace.