As anyone in the press or VIP offices can tell you, CERN is in the spotlight like never before. In the first two months of 2012, we welcomed some 56 VIP visits and 144 media visits on site. Not long ago, those were the kind of numbers we’d have had in six months, and 2012 is not a one-off.
Ever since CERN turned 50 in 2004, our visitor numbers have been growing, and that includes teachers and members of the public as well as VIPs and the media. It’s a sign of the explosion of interest around the world in our science, and to me it means two things. Firstly, it means that I owe everyone at CERN a vote of thanks, since I know that visits impinge on everyone’s time. I can assure you all, however, that it is time well spent. That’s because the second thing it tells me is that growing interest in CERN brings opportunity.
Our current visibility gives the particle physics community the opportunity to drive science up the popular and political agendas, and it’s our obligation to make sure that happens. As I pointed out to all those VIPs who visited us in January and February, the world’s future depends on science, progress depends on science, and the resolution of many of the problems facing society today depends on science. If the scientific community is not doing all it can to engage with the public, to enthuse the young and to ensure that science is at the top of the political agenda, then we are failing in our duty.
The evidence of all the visits we’ve hosted this year is that nobody visits CERN and leaves uninspired, everyone who comes here becomes an ambassador for CERN, and leaves with an understanding of the vital role that science must play in the world. Through our visit programmes for all sectors of society, CERN is doing its bit in getting that message across.