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CERN logo
CERN logo

The Organisation européenne pour la recherche nucléaire (English: European Organization for Nuclear Research), commonly known as CERN, pronounced [sɝn] (or [sɛʀn] in French), is the world's largest particle physics laboratory, situated just northwest of Geneva on the border between France and Switzerland. The convention establishing CERN was signed on 29 September 1954. From the original 12 signatories of the CERN convention, membership has grown to the present 20 member states. Its main function is to provide the particle accelerators and other infrastructure needed for high energy physics research. Numerous experiments have been constructed at CERN by international collaborations to make use of them. The main site at Meyrin also has a large computer centre containing very powerful data processing facilities primarily for experimental data analysis, and because of the need to make them available to researchers elsewhere, has historically been (and continues to be) a major wide area networking hub.

CERN currently has just under 3000 full-time employees. Some 7931 scientists and engineers (representing 500 universities and 80 nationalities), about half of the world's particle physics community, work on experiments conducted at CERN.

As an international facility, the CERN sites are not officially under Swiss or French jurisdiction, and some company vehicles have diplomatic number plates. In practice, only minor employee rights issues are dealt with internally.


[edit] CERN acronym

The acronym originally stood, in French, for Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (European Council for Nuclear Research), which was a provisional council for setting up the laboratory, established by 11 European governments in 1952. The acronym was retained for the new laboratory after the provisional council was dissolved, even though the name changed to the current Organisation Européenne pour la Recherche Nucléaire (European Organization for Nuclear Research) in 1954.[1] According to Lew Kowarski, a former director of CERN, when the name was changed, the acronym could have become the awkward OERN, and Heisenberg said "But the acronym can still be CERN even if the name is ......." The acronymus works in italian: Centro Europeo per la Ricerca Nucleare

[edit] Scientific achievements

Several important achievements in particle physics have been made during experiments at CERN. These include, but are not limited to:

The 1984 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to Carlo Rubbia and Simon van der Meer for the W and Z boson discoveries.

The 1992 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to Georges Charpak "for his invention and development of particle detectors, in particular the multiwire proportional chamber."

[edit] Current accelerator complex

CERN operates a network of six accelerators and a decelerator. Each machine in the chain increases the energy of particle beams before delivering them to experiments or to the next more powerful accelerator. Currently active machines are:

  • Two linear accelerators generating low energy particles for injection into the Proton Synchrotron. One is for protons and the other for heavy ions. These are known as Linac2 and Linac3 respectively.
  • The PS Booster, which increases the energy of particles generated by the linear accelerators before they are transferred to the other accelerators.
  • The 28 GeV Proton Synchrotron (PS) built 1959 and still operating as a feeder to the more powerful SPS.
  • The Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS), a circular accelerator with a diameter of 2 kilometres built in a tunnel, which started operation in 1976. It was designed to deliver an energy of 300 GeV and was gradually upgraded to 450 GeV. As well as having its own beamlines for fixed-target experiments, it has been operated as a proton-antiproton collider, and for accelerating high energy electrons and positrons which were injected into the Large Electron-Positron Collider (LEP). From 2007 onwards, it will inject protons and heavy ions into the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
  • The On-Line Isotope Mass Separator (ISOLDE), which is used to study unstable nuclei. Particles are initially accelerated in the PS Booster before entering ISOLDE. It was first commissioned in 1967 and was rebuilt with major upgrades in 1974 and 1992.
  • The Antiproton Decelerator (AD), which reduces the velocity of antiprotons to about 10% the speed of light for research into antimatter.

Since August 2006, the proton beam of the SPS is producing a muon-neutrino beam, directed to the Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso, 730km away, for studies of neutrino oscillations: the CERN neutrinos to Gran Sasso [1].

[edit] The accelerator of the future: the Large Hadron Collider

Construction of the CMS detector for LHC at CERN
Construction of the CMS detector for LHC at CERN

Most of the activities at CERN are currently directed towards building a new collider, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and the experiments for it, due to start operation in 2007. This will use the 27 km circumference circular tunnel previously occupied by LEP which was closed down in November 2000, and the PS/SPS complex to pre-accelerate protons which will be injected into it.

The tunnel is located 100 metres underground, in the region between the Geneva airport and the nearby Jura mountains. Six experiments (CMS, ATLAS, LHCb, TOTEM, LHC-forward and ALICE) are currently being built, and will be running on the collider; each of them will study particle collisions under a different point of view, and with different technologies. Construction for these experiments needed an extraordinary engineering effort. Just as an example, to lower the pieces for the CMS experiment into the underground cavern which will host it, a special crane will have to be rented from Belgium, which will be able to lift the almost 2000 tons for each piece. The first of the approximately 5,000 magnets necessary for construction was lowered down a special shaft at 13:00 GMT on 7 March 2005.

This accelerator will generate vast quantities of computer data, which CERN will stream to laboratories around the world for distributed processing (the GRID technology). In April 2005, a trial successfully streamed 600MB per second to seven different sites across the world. If all the data generated by the LHC is to be analysed, then scientists must achieve 1,800MB per second before 2007.

[edit] Decommissioned accelerators

[edit] CERN sites

CERN's main site, looking from Switzerland towards France.
CERN's main site, looking from Switzerland towards France.

The smaller accelerators are located on the main Meyrin site (also known as the West Area), which was originally built in Switzerland alongside the French border but has been extended to span the border since 1965. The French side is under Swiss jurisdiction and so there is no obvious border within the site, apart from a line of marker stones. There are six entrances to the Meyrin site:

  • A, in Switzerland. Open for all CERN personnel at specific times.
  • B, in Switzerland. Open for all CERN personnel 24/7. Often referred to as the main entrance
  • C, in Switzerland. Open for all CERN personnel at specific times.
  • D, in Switzerland. Open for goods reception at specific times.
  • E, in France. Open for French-resident CERN personnel at specific times. Controlled by customs personnel. Named "Port Charles de Gaulle" at the request of President Chirac it is known colloquially as "Checkpoint Charlie"
  • Tunnel entrance, in France. Open for equipment transfer to and from CERN sites in France by personnel with a specific permit. This is the only permitted route for such transfers. Under the CERN treaty, no taxes are payable when such transfers are made. Controlled by customs personnel.

The SPS and LEP/LHC tunnels are located underground almost entirely outside the main site, and are mostly buried under French farmland and invisible from the surface. However they have surface sites at various points around them, either as the location of buildings associated with experiments or other facilities needed to operate the colliders such as cryogenic plants and access shafts. The experiments themselves are located at the same underground level as the tunnels at these sites.

Three of these experimental sites are in France, with ATLAS in Switzerland, although some of the ancillary cryogenic and access sites are in Switzerland. The largest of the experimental sites is the Prévessin site, also known as the North Area, which is the target station for non-collider experiments on the SPS accelerator. Other sites are the ones which were used for the UA1, UA2 and the LEP experiments (the latter which will be used for LHC experiments).

Outside of the LEP and LHC experiments, most are officially named and numbered after the site where they were located. For example, NA32 was an experiment looking at the production of charmed particles and located at the Prévessin (North Area) site while WA22 used the BEBC bubble chamber at the Meyrin (West Area) site to examine neutrino interactions. The UA1 and UA2 experiments were considered to be in the Underground Area, i.e. situated underground at sites on the SPS accelerator.

[edit] Computer Science and CERN

This NeXTcube used by Berners-Lee at CERN became the first Web server.
This NeXTcube used by Berners-Lee at CERN became the first Web server.

The World Wide Web began as a CERN project called ENQUIRE, initiated by Tim Berners-Lee in 1980. Based on the concept of hypertext, the project was aimed at facilitating sharing information among researchers. The first website went on-line in 1991. On 30 April 1993, CERN announced that the World Wide Web would be free to anyone. A copy of the original first webpage, created by Berners-Lee, is kept here.

This Cisco Systems router at CERN was probably one of the first IP routers deployed in Europe.
This Cisco Systems router at CERN was probably one of the first IP routers deployed in Europe.

Prior to the Web's development, CERN had been a pioneer in the introduction of Internet technology in Europe, beginning in the early 1980s. A short history of this period can be found here. Other notables from the development of the World Wide Web and hypertext at CERN include Robert Cailliau and Jean-François Groff.

More recently, CERN has become a centre for the development of Grid computing, hosting among others the Enabling Grids for E-sciencE and LHC Computing Grid projects. It also hosts the CERN Internet Exchange Point (CIXP), one of the two main Internet Exchange Points in Switzerland.

[edit] Member States

Member States of CERN      Founding members      Members who joined CERN later
Member States of CERN      Founding members      Members who joined CERN later

The original CERN signatories were:

Since then:

There are currently twenty member countries.
Eight additional international organizations or countries have "observer status":

[edit] Public exhibits

The Globe of Science and Innovation at CERN
The Globe of Science and Innovation at CERN

Facilities at CERN open to the public include:

  • The Globe of Science and Innovation, which recently opened and is used four times a week for special exhibits.
  • The Microcosm museum on particle physics and CERN history.

[edit] In fiction

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ The CERN Name, on the CERN website. Last accessed on 25 October 2006.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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Coordinates: 46°14′03″N, 6°03′10″E