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Solid groundwork underlies a high-profile year

This year has shown how decades of diligent groundwork lay the foundations for success, says CERN Director-General Rolf Heuer


Many at CERN will remember 2013 as a year of major high-profile events, ranging from the Open Days to the Nobel Prize for François Englert and Peter Higgs. For me, it’s a year that’s shown how decades of diligent groundwork, a hallmark of CERN and particle physics, along with a deep-seated sense of the values of the Organization, lay the foundations for success.

François Englert and Peter Higgs had a long wait for their trip to Stockholm last week, and it’s telling that Higgs was recently quoted as saying that by today’s standards, he’d be deemed unproductive. There’s a message there for modern society – not everything can be a quick fix, some things take time, and certainly in science, there may be a long road to travel, with many twists and turns before you reach your destination.

When Brout, Englert and Higgs published their papers in 1964, they did so at a time of great flux in particle theory. It was a decade before a framework validating their ideas came to prominence, allowing the experimental community to start thinking seriously about how to test the mechanism they had put forward. The LHC was formally proposed in the 1980s, and it is an intellectual, technical and sociological tour de force. Building it, its detectors and computing has taken the dedication of thousands working over decades, and as I raised my glass to Englert and Higgs last week, I was thinking of all of those people. Our discovery and this year’s Nobel Prize in physics were built on the solid foundations laid by them.

That work is, of course, still on-going as we prepare for the LHC’s next chapter. Since the beginning of the year, our whole accelerator complex has been undergoing the most extensive campaign of maintenance and renovation it has ever had, and is on course to come back to life progressively, starting next year.

A curious thing about this year’s Nobel announcements is that the physics prize seemed to get more attention than the literature prize. As far as I know, that’s a first. And wherever you look, people are interested in physics. Record numbers are coming to CERN, and hadron collider has become a metaphor for excellence. In this area too, the successes of 2013 were built on the foundations of years of work from grass-roots physicists and engineers reaching out, groups from all areas of CERN working to enable ever larger public and media events on site, and the day-to-day work of those who promote our science. To cite just a few numbers, in 2013, some 180 VIP visits were organised by the protocol office, representatives of around 600 media outlets came to CERN, there were 1035 high school teachers here and around 90,000 public visitors, not including the Open Days, which themselves would not have been possible without the diligent help of thousands of you who volunteered to help over the weekend.

So my message at this year’s end is congratulations on a wonderful, high-profile year, and thanks to all of you, in every group and team working at CERN, who lay the foundations for such successes. 

Before I close, I’d like to take this opportunity to update you on news from the Council last week. As you’re all aware, the Council agreed to admit Israel as our 21st Member State, a decision that was formalised last Friday when Israel notified UNESCO that it had ratified the CERN Convention. It gives me great pleasure to welcome Israel formally to the CERN family.

The Council session was also the occasion to thank several members of the management and the Council for their work over the last few years, and to welcome their successors. At the end of this year, Steve Myers steps down as Director for Accelerators and Technology and Philippe Bloch as Physics Department Head. Frédérick Bordry takes over from Steve, with José Miguel Jiménez replacing him as Head of the Technology Department. Livio Mapelli takes the reins of the Physics Department. The Council re-elected Agnieszka Zalewska as President for another year, while Charlotte Jamieson replaces Bjørn Jacobsen as Chair of the Finance Committee, and Tatsuya Nakada takes over from Fabio Zwirner as Scientific Policy Committee Chair.

So all that remains now is for me to wish you and your families a very happy end-of-year break, and to invite you to my New Year address to the personnel on Wednesday 8 January 2014 at 10am.