European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)

Founded in 1954 by 12 European countries, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, better known as CERN (in French, Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire) is the world’s largest particle physics laboratory with approximately 15,000 users coming from its 23 Member States and over 100 countries from around the world. By bringing together the creativity of many scientists from different nationalities, backgrounds and technical fields of research, CERN has been and continues to be a source of knowledge, technological innovation and technology creation.

CERN is open to scientists from all nations irrespective of their system of government, some from countries that are opponents on the political stage. During the Cold War, CERN served as a bridge between East and West and in 2012, CERN became an observer to the United Nations (UN), serving as a leading voice for global science. In cooperation with the UN, CERN provides the IT infrastructure that allows the UNOSAT programme to be at the forefront of satellite-analysis technology, e.g. for disaster-risk reduction or regional capacity development. CERN has also helped to build the SESAME light source in Jordan, which follows the CERN model and promotes scientific collaboration in the Middle East.

Particle physics seeks to understand the formation and structure of the universe at its most fundamental level and its evolution since the very beginning. The instruments used at CERN are purpose-built particle accelerators and detectors. Advanced particle accelerators, cutting-edge particle detectors, and sophisticated computing techniques are the hallmarks of particle physics research which needs very highly specialised instruments using technologies and requiring performance that often exceed the available industrial know-how. From this the necessity arises for researchers to innovate, invent, and develop tools, techniques, and technologies to carry out this mission.

Several important achievements in particle physics have been made through experiments at CERN. They include:

The 1984 Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to Carlo Rubbia and Simon van der Meer for the developments that resulted in the discoveries of the W and Z bosons. The 1992 Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to CERN staff researcher Georges Charpak “for his invention and development of particle detectors, in particular the multiwire proportional chamber“.

The LHC (Large Hadron Collider),  the world’s highest-energy particle accelerator and one of the most complex experimental facilities is the latest addition to CERN’s accelerator complex. The LHC consists of a 27-kilometer ring of superconducting magnets with a number of accelerating structures to boost the energy of the particles along the way.

The LHC was built at CERN between 1998 to 2008 in collaboration with scientists and engineers from over 100 countries globally. See Figure 1 for the diagram of the CERN accelerator complex.

Figure 1:  The accelerator complex at CERN is a succession of machines that accelerate particles to increasingly higher energies. Each machine boosts the energy of a beam of particles, before injecting the beam into the next machine in the sequence.

The two largest detectors, ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS) and CMS(Compact Muon Solenoid), are general-purpose experiments, which investigate the largest range of particle physics at colliders. Having two independently designed detectors, which adopt different technologies, is key for crosschecking and confirming any new discoveries. ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment) and LHCb (Large Hadron Collider beauty) have detectors optimised for specific purposes.

The LHC started to run in  2008  and in  2012, ATLAS and CMS announced they had each observed a new particle consistent with the Higgs boson the particle that was the final missing piece of what is referred to as the Standard Model of particle physics.

In 2013, the Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded jointly to François Englert and Peter Higgs “for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles”. In addition to the Higgs Boson discovery, the technological advances needed to realise the LHC and its experiments have driven numerous other developments in a range of domains, including those of imaging and radiation therapy.

In collaboration with groups worldwide,  CERN is upgrading the LHC to an order of magnitude Luminosity by 2026 and is investigating two main concepts for future accelerators: A linear electron-positron collider with a new acceleration concept to increase the energy (CLIC) and a larger version of the LHC, a project currently named Future Circular Collider

Innovation from High Energy Physics and CERN

The ambitious scientific goals of high energy physics require cutting edge instruments and innovative technologies that have applications in many other fields.

  • In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, CERN has designed and produced the HEV (High Energy Ventilator), an inexpensive and robust prototype for potential deployment in developing countries. WHO is working with CERN to get this industrialised.
  • The invention of the World-Wide Web at CERN was driven by the need for better communication among scientists around the world. It is certainly CERN’s innovation with the highest impact on our daily life. In addition, CERN was a pioneer in other breakthrough technologies, such as the touchscreen.
  • The World-Wide LHC computing grid (WLCG) is a distributed computing infrastructure providing more than 500,000 CPUs and 500 PB of data storage in over 200 computer centres in 35 countries. CERN is one of the biggest producers and consumers of big data in the world.
  • Hadron therapy aims at treating tumours with beams of protons and light ions, to reduce the radiation exposure of healthy tissue. Europe has three cutting-edge therapy centres: two of these, CNAO in Italy and MedAustron in Austria, were built in close cooperation with CERN for accelerator design, construction, testing and further technology developments. CERN also supports the development of miniature linear accelerators for proton therapy.
  • Medical imaging benefits from new types of fast, bright, and dense scintillating crystals for PET scanners [3]. The forerunner of the PET scanner, now used routinely in medical imaging, was another breakthrough technology where CERN made pioneering contributions.
  • Software for simulating particle interactions in detectors is used e.g. to calculate the precise radiation dose for cancer treatment planning systems and for space applications.
  • New type of crystals and electronics for PET scanners
  • Pixel detector technologies developed at CERN (“Medipix”) are used e.g. in medical diagnostics, industrial processes, x-ray based material analysis and space missions on the International Space Station.