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CERN prepares for 50th anniversary

Geneva, 1 July 2003. Fifty years ago today, representatives of the twelve founding Member States of CERN1 signed the Organization's convention, paving the way for the establishment of the world's leading fundamental physics research institution. Today, CERN numbers 20 European Member States, with several countries from beyond the European region also participating in the Laboratory's world-class research programme. CERN officially came into existence on 29 September 1954, when the founding Member States ratified the convention. The Laboratory is planning a series of events to mark the anniversary in 2004.

CERN's origins can be traced to the 1940s, when a small number of visionary scientists in Europe and North America identified the need for Europe to have a world class physics research facility. Their vision was both to stop the brain drain to America that had begun during the war, and to provide a force for unity in post war Europe. In both, CERN has succeeded brilliantly. There are now more US scientists working at CERN than Europeans in US particle physics laboratories, and CERN has always prided itself on its openess to scientists from around the world, regardless of the political or religious climate of their home countries. As an exercise in international collaboration, CERN sets a shining example.

Three CERN scientists - Carlo Rubbia and Simon van der Meer in 1984, and Georges Charpak in 1992 - have received the Nobel prize for work undertaken at CERN, and a further two Nobel laureates are engaged in the CERN programme. In computer science, for which there is no Nobel prize, the Laboratory has also received the highest accolades for the invention of the World Wide Web.

But half a century is no time for the laboratory to be resting on its laurels. CERN is currently engaged in the most ambitious programme in its history - the Large Hadron Collider, LHC. This new research facility - a 27 kilometre circular particle accelerator - will smash protons and other nuclei together head on, creating conditions that have not existed since the Big Bang. Together with the detectors that will capture these collisions, the LHC is the most complex scientific instrument ever built. It will probe questions such as what is the mysterious dark matter of the Universe made of? Why do particles have mass? And what was the Universe like in the first fraction of a second of its life, before matter started to cool down into the form it has today. The LHC will start up in 2007.

50th Anniversary celebrations will kick off in March next year, with the launch of a commemorative stamp in Switzerland. Later in the year, CERN's new exhibition and networking centre, the Globe of Innovation - a landmark 27 metre high wooden sphere generously offered to CERN by the Swiss Confederation will be inaugurated. The Globe will host a VIP reception in October. Other events will include an open day, a Europe-wide scientific challenge on the Web, a series of events in CERN's Member States, and a bid to assemble the largest amount of computing power ever in a single world-spanning computing Grid.

1. CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, has its headquarters in Geneva. At present, its Member States are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. India, Israel, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United States of America, Turkey, the European Commission and UNESCO have observer status.