In March 1989, CERN scientist Tim Berners-Lee wrote a proposal to develop a distributed information system for the laboratory. “Vague, but exciting” was the comment that his supervisor, Mike Sendall, wrote on the cover, and with those words, gave the green light to an information revolution.
The excavation of the tunnel for the Large Electron-Positron Collider – Europe’s largest civil-engineering project prior to the Channel Tunnel – is completed on 8 February 1988. The two ends of the 27-kilometre ring come together with just one centimetre of error. The picture above shows a tunneling crew after completing a section of the tunnel between points 2 and 3 on the LEP ring.
With US President Ronald Reagan’s support, American physicists begin in-depth preparations to build the largest particle collider ever. The Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) – a circular accelerator with an 87-kilometre circumference – is designed to smash particles together at 40 TeV centre-of-mass energy. This would make the accelerator far more powerful than CERN's planned Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Construction begins in 1991 near Waxahachie, Texas. To some, the existence of the SSC project puts the need to build the LHC into doubt.
Ambassador H. Jamal, Permanent Representative of Tanzania to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
Just after the big bang the universe was too hot and dense for the existence of familiar particles such as protons and neutrons. Instead, their constituents – the quarks and gluons – roamed freely in a "particle soup" called quark-gluon plasma.
Portugal joined CERN as a member state in 1986. The Laboratório de Instrumentação e Física Experimental de Partículas (LIP) was created at the same time to carry out all activities related to experimental particle physics, involving researchers from universities as well as LIP’s own scientific staff.
The discovery of the W boson is so important that the two key physicists behind the discovery receive the Nobel prize in physics in 1984. The prize goes to Carlo Rubbia (pictured, left), instigator of the accelerator’s conversion and spokesperson of the UA1 experiment, and to Simon van der Meer (pictured, right), whose technology is vital to the collider’s operation.
CERN and the European Committee for Future Accelerators (ECFA) hold a workshop in Lausanne, Switzerland and at CERN from the 21-27 March 1984. The event, Large Hadron Collider in the LEP Tunnel, marks the first official recognition of the concept of the LHC. Attendees consider topics such as what types of particles to collide and the challenges inherent to high-energy collisions. The image above shows one proposal from the workshop – adding the LHC in with the existing LEP machine – that was later scrapped.
CERN staff and their families were joined by numerous distinguished guests for the official ceremony that launched civil engineering work for the Large Electron-Positron (LEP) collider project on 13 September 1983. Speeches by Herwig Schopper (CERN’s Director-General) and Presidents François Mitterrand and Pierre Aubert were followed by an inaugural ceremony, then music and celebrations on the lawn.
The presidents of CERN’s two host countries, François Mitterrand of France and Pierre Aubert of Switzerland, symbolically broke the ground and laid a plaque commemorating the inauguration of the Large Electron-Positron collider (LEP) on 13 September 1983.
CERN is a centre for scientific research, but also a place for exchanges between science and other fields of human culture and understanding. The visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on 30 August 1983 provided just such an opportunity. In the morning he and his delegation of monks toured some of CERN’s facilities, including UA1, where the recent discovery of the W and Z bosons had taken place.
To maximize the use of the Synchrocyclotron (SC) beam time and to meet the requests from the growing physics community using ISOLDE, the ISOLDE collaboration decides to build a second isotope separator of ultra-modern design. The separator design uses a two-stage separation (one 60 degree and one 90 degree magnet) in order to obtain a very high resolution. The target is placed in the SC vault and after the second magnet, the ion beam enters the proton hall, which serves as the new experimental area.
In a press conference on 25 January, CERN announces news of the discovery of the W boson to the world. The UA2 team reserves judgment at this stage but further analysis soon convinces them. From their results both teams estimate the boson's mass at around 80 GeV, which is in excellent agreement with predictions from electroweak theory.
The tension at CERN becomes electric, culminating in two seminars, from Carlo Rubbia (for UA1) on 20 January 1983 and Luigi Di Lella (for UA2) the following afternoon, both with the CERN auditorium packed to the roof. UA1 announces six candidate W events; UA2 announces four. The presentations are still tentative and qualified.
In 1979, CERN decided to convert the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS) into a proton–antiproton collider. A technique called stochastic cooling was vital to the project's success as it allowed enough antiprotons to be collected to make a beam.
The first proton–antiproton collisions were achieved just two years after the project was approved, and two experiments, UA1 and UA2, started to search the collision debris for signs of W and Z particles, carriers of the weak interaction between particles.
At the Topical Workshop on Proton-Antiproton Collider Physics in Rome from 12-14 January 1983, the first tentative evidence for observations of the W particle by the UA1 and UA2 collaborations is presented.
Out of the several thousand million collisions recorded, a handful give signals, which could correspond to the production of a W in the high-energy collision and its subsequent decay into an electron (or positron if the W is positively charged) and a neutrino
The return to CERN as a member state in 1983 marked the renaissance of high-energy physics in Spain. In the same year, a special programme for particle physics was created within the framework of the Spanish National Plan for research and development. The continuation of the original programme serves today to coordinate and fund most of the experimental and theoretical particle and astroparticle physics research in Spain.
The first person outside CERN to be informed of the imminent discovery of the W boson is Margaret Thatcher, then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who paid a visit to CERN in August 1982. [See a video of the visit]. During her visit Thatcher asked the then Director-General of CERN Herwig Schopper to keep her updated on the progress of the search for the carriers of the weak force, the W and Z bosons.
In a confidential letter dated 20 December 1982, Schopper wrote:
HH Pope John Paul II and CERN Director-General H. Schopper.
Carlo Rubbia delays his departure to the Lisbon High Energy Physics Conference by a day so that on 10 July 1981, he is able to announce that the UA1 detector has seen its first proton-antiproton collisions. UA2 takes its first data in December this same year.
The Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS) accelerates its first pulse of antiprotons to 270 GeV. Two days later, with a proton beam orbiting in the opposite direction, there is the first evidence of proton-antiproton collisions. In August, the antiproton count reaches 109 and the UA1 calorimeter records some 4000 events. In October, the first visual evidence of the collisions is recorded in the streamer chambers of the UA5 detector (a precursor to UA2).
In the late 1970s physicists from CERN member states were discussing the long-term future of high-energy physics in Europe. A new picture of fundamental processes – unification – was emerging and the Large Electron Positron collider (LEP) would be the machine to study it. After a history built on proton accelerators, the idea of an electron-positron collider was a break with tradition for CERN.
Proton beams are injected and stored for the first time in the Antiproton Accumulator – a storage ring invented by CERN physicist Simon van der Meer where stochastic cooling produces intense antiproton beams. It took only two years from authorization of the machine to the announcement of first operation at the International Accelerator Conference at CERN, in July 1980. Within days, magnet polarities are reversed and antiprotons are injected and cooled.
Three physicists, Steven Weinberg, Abdus Salam and Sheldon Glashow, receive the Nobel prize in physics for proposing the electroweak theory. They believe that two of the four fundamental forces – the electromagnetic force and the weak force – are in fact different facets of the same force. Under high-energy conditions such as those in a particle accelerator, the two would merge into the electroweak force.
Official 25th anniversary celebrations were held on 25 June, but the fun and games happened on CERN’s real birthday, 29 September. As well as sports, sideshows, films, and Genevan Pipes and Drums, there was Happy Birthday, CERN, written and recorded for the occasion at Fermilab.
Verse three goes like this:
“Here's the toast we're proposing:
may your future be greater,
And the budget imposing for your
CERN issues a press release announcing the first storage of antiprotons. It reads:
Antimatter, in the form of antiprotons, has been stored for the first time in history.
This scientific first occurred at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, at the end of July during tests conducted in view of using the SPS European accelerator as a colliding device between protons and antiprotons.
CERN physicist Carlo Rubbia pulls together a team to put forward a proposal for an experiment code-named UA1, for "Underground Area 1", since its location on the SPS requires a large cavern to be excavated. The team grows to involve some 130 physicists from 13 research centres – Aachen, Annecy LAPP, Birmingham, CERN, Helsinki, Queen Mary College London, Collège de France Paris, Riverside, Rome, Rutherford, Saclay, Vienna and Wisconsin.
At 2.2 kilometres in diameter the Super Proton Synchrotron is Europe's largest particle accelerator. Commissioning of the accelerator begins in mid-March 1976 using beams of protons. Then on 17 June 1976 the SPS accelerates a beam of protons at its design energy of 400 GeV for the first time. The machine is ready to supply beams to experiments.
At the International Neutrino Conference in Aachen, Germany, (8-12 June 1976) physicists Carlo Rubbia, Peter McIntyre and David Cline suggest modifying the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS) from a one-beam accelerator into a two-beam collider. The two-beam configuration would collide a beam of protons with a beam of antiprotons, greatly increasing the available energy in comparison with a single beam colliding against a fixed target.
The Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS) became the workhorse of CERN’s particle physics programme when it switched on in 1976. The first beam of protons circulated the full 7 kilometres of the accelerator on 3 May 1976. The picture above shows the SPS control room on 17 June 1976, when the machine accelerated protons to 400 GeV for the first time.
New experiments are installed at ISOLDE II and placed at the three main beam-lines. The photo shows the underground hall UR8 on April 6 1976, which only housed experimental installations. The control desk could be found one floor above.
A trip to China in September 1975 helped pave the way for increased contact between the scientific communities. Scientists from the People's Republic of China had visited CERN in July 1973, and the reciprocal invitation two years later included social and scientific exchanges plus the traditional group photo at the National People’s Congress Palace. The schedule underwent several changes, you can see a draft here.
A Data Handling Division report by Philipe Bloch states:
A team photo celebrates the completion of the SPS tunnel in July 1974. The Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS) was the first of CERN’s giant accelerators. It was also the first cross-border accelerator. Excavation took around two years, and on 31 July 1974 the Robbins tunnel-boring machine returned to its starting point having crossed the Franco-Swiss border and excavated a tunnel with a circumference of 7 kilometres and an average depth of 40 metres below the surface.
A few months after the signature of the agreement giving the go-ahead for the expansion of CERN into French territory, work began on the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS). Two years later, on 31 July 1974, the Robbins tunnel-boring machine excavating the SPS tunnel returned to its starting point (see photograph). It had excavated a tunnel with a circumference of 7 kilometres, at an average depth of 40 metres below the surface. The tunnel straddled the Franco-Swiss border, making the SPS the first cross-border accelerator. More than a thousand magnets were needed to equip the ring.
(image: The ISOLDE II experimental area)
In March 1974, the SC improvement programme is completed and the first beams are directed towards the ISOLDE targets.
The intensity increase of the external beam up to 1 μA together with new target designs hold their promises and give a considerable increase in the number of isotopes available for experiments.
(image: The Synchrocyclotron with the rotating condenser )
The Synchrocyclotron (SC) is shut down for a major reconstruction in 1972, called the SC Improvement Programme (SCIP). An important part of the upgrade of the SC is to change the frequency system from one based on a tuning fork to a rotating condenser. The extraction system of the beam to ISOLDE is also improved, which means a beam intensity of about two orders higher can be delivered to the ISOLDE target.
Simon van der Meer at CERN writes a paper describing a technique he had first though of in 1968 to reduce the energy spread and angular divergence of a beam of charged particles. During this process of "stochastic cooling", the particles are "compressed" into a finer beam with less energy spread and less angular divergence.
What is a computer? Why does CERN need the new ‘number crunchers’ anyway? These are some of the questions Lew Kowarski tries to answer in a special issue of the CERN Courier devoted to computing at CERN in 1972.
A “modest ceremony” marked the opening of a new training centre for CERN’s apprentices in December 1971. The converted barrack was fitted with a range of equipment, enabling them to practice their skills and spend more time learning together before heading around the laboratory for further training.
The Super Proton Synchrotron is designed to provide protons at 400 GeV for fixed-target experiments. Construction for this underground synchrotron begins on 19 February 1971.
Seven kilometres in circumference, the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS) was the first of CERN’s giant underground rings. It was also the first accelerator to cross the Franco–Swiss border.
The scene is the control room of the Intersecting Storage Rings (ISR) on 27 January 1971. Kjell Johnsen, leader of the ISR construction team, has just announced successful recording of the first ever interactions from colliding proton beams. It was a triumphant moment, not least because the ISR had been an ambitious and highly controversial project, with several years of heated debate preceding its final unanimous approval by the CERN council in June 1965.
By the late 1950s, physicists knew that a huge gain in collision energy would come from colliding particle beams head on, rather than by using a single beam and a stationary target. At CERN, accelerator experts conceived the idea to use the Proton Synchrotron (PS) to feed two interconnected rings where two intense proton beams could be built up and then made to collide. The project for the Intersecting Storage Rings (ISR) was formally approved in 1965.
Astronaut Rusty Schweickart’s visit to CERN on 4 June 1969 was a big hit. The auditorium was packed, and his talk on The Flight of Apollo 9 and the Future of Space Exploration was screened to other equally crowded rooms around CERN. Just three months earlier he had been the Lunar Module pilot on the Apollo 9 mission, which carried out a series of tests in earth orbit paving the way for the landing of the first man on the moon on 20 July.
The CDC 6400 was upgraded to a CDC 6500 in 1969. This image, taken on 12 February 1974, shows a general view of the remote input/output station installed in building 112, used for submitting jobs to the CDC 6500 and 6600. The card reader on the left and the line printer on the right are operated by programmers on a self-service basis.
The Canton of Geneva bought the CDC 3800 from CERN, and installed it at the University of Geneva. At CERN, the CDC 3800 was replaced by a CDC 6400.
At the request of the Spanish government, Spanish contributions to the CERN budget for 1964, 1965 and 1966 were reduced by 50%, 35% and 20% respectively. In a letter on 21 September 1996 to the Director-General the government asked for a further reduction of 35% from 1967 onwards. The CERN finance committee rejected the request.
Minutes of the CERN council, 19-20 June, 1969:
Summer at CERN means summer students – and a succession of distinguished speakers from within and outside the organization who share their knowledge with young scientists each year. This photo shows Nobel Prize-winner T. D. Lee explaining symmetry principles in physics to the 1968 intake.
Dialling zero for an outside line could be frustrating in 1965. With just 17 lines serving 1,000 CERN extensions, callers faced long waits – and if the overloaded battery failed no-one could got through at all. Phone traffic had increased by 70% between 1963 and 1965, complaints were frequent and the exchange staff were feeling overloaded too.
CERN’s internal magazine carried detailed instructions about closed roads, blocked entrances, and suggested detours. Staff were invited to respect the parking ban and to obey police instructions, but plenty of them took the opportunity to pile outside and watch as well. On 19 July 1968 the Tour de France came right past CERN’s main entrance!
In March 1968 staff were invited to watch the new documentary film about CERN. They probably enjoyed themselves, as Guido Franco’s aim was to inform the public through entertainment. He sought to engage an audience’s attention and make them want to learn, rather than forcing information on them. If that sounds uncontentious, you might be surprised at the strength of feeling the film aroused.
In the 1960s, detection in particle physics mainly involved examining millions of photographs from bubble chambers or spark chambers. This was slow, labour-intensive and unsuitable for studies into rare phenomena.
(image: ISOLDE experimental hall. The magnet of the ISOTOPE separator, the collection chamber and the control desk were placed in the same area as most of the experiments.)
HM The Emperor of Ethiopia Hailé Salassié I and CERN Director-General B. Gregory.
At its 81st meeting on 16 February 1967, CERN's Finance Committee authorized the purchase of the CDC 6400 computer, a small CDC 3100, and four magnetic tape units. The costs exceeded the funds available in the 1967 budget by 7-8 million Swiss francs. In its next meeting the Committee recommended the use of CERN's own funds for the purchase, "only raising a bank overdraft if this is necessary to cover the cash requirements".
The CDC 6400 was installed at CERN later that year.
The 3800 was a member of the 3000 series Control Data Corporation family of computers, incompatible with the 6000 series machines. The 3800 had a 48-bit architecture. Its 64 Kword core memory was replaced by a faster, 800-nanosecond memory during its stay at CERN. This machine was eventually acquired by the State of Geneva and installed at the local University of Geneva. At CERN it was replaced by a CDC 6400.
(image: excavation work for ISOLDE underground hall in 1966)
On 21 February 1966 the Swiss Postal Authorities issued a 50 centime postage stamp in honour of CERN. Five Swiss artists visited CERN and were shown around the site, then each presented two designs. The judges selected a design by H. Kumpel showing the flags of the thirteen Member States of CERN superimposed on a bubble chamber photograph. The flags are arranged to represent the approximate outline of the Swiss border.
A suggestion to ease parking problems on the CERN site by allocating spaces didn’t go down well in 1965. Possibly the priority given to senior staff, and remarks about the benefits of an invigorating walk, gave offence. In any case, an alternative was proposed:
By 1965, all three particles that make up atoms (electrons, protons and neutrons) were known to each have an antiparticle. So if particles, bound together in atoms, are the basic units of matter, it is natural to think that antiparticles, bound together in antiatoms, are the basic units of antimatter.
The CDC 6600, made by the Control Data Corporation, arrived at CERN on 14 January 1965. It was the first multi-programmed machine in the CERN Computer Centre, with about 10 times the processing capacity of the IBM 7090.
On 10 April 1963, a number of European nuclear physicists meet at CERN to discuss the isotope separator project. A first outline is presented in an internal nuclear physics division report.
A Working Party is set up and a series of meetings are held from May to September. In a memorandum dated 26 October 1964 the chairman of the Nuclear Structure Committee Torleif Ericson recommends the on-line isotope separator project to CERN and on 9 November the Working Party submit a formal proposal.
The tradition of holding a Christmas party for CERN children began in the first year of CERN’s existence and still continues. In the early 1960s it was decided to hold two parties, so there would be room to invite non-CERN children from the neighbouring districts as well. In 1964 (on December 6 for those with names from A to K, and December 13 for the rest) children aged between four and twelve years old enjoyed a film, a conjurer and musical clowns, followed by refreshments.
British physicist Peter Higgs, and independently Robert Brout and Francois Englert publish papers describing a mechanism which explains how particles could get mass. Higgs calls the hypothetical particle the "Higgs boson" in his paper Broken Symmetries and the Masses of Gauge Bosons, published on 19 October 1964 in the journal Physical Review Letters.
In 1964, James Cronin and Val Fitch at Brookhaven National Laboratory in the US did an experiment with particles called neutral K-mesons, or "kaons". The types of kaons they chose to study can be regarded to consist of one half ordinary matter and the other half antimatter. They started with two types of kaon that had seemingly identical masses but different lifetimes. Kaons of the long-lived type exist for 5.2 × 10-8 seconds before each decays into 3 pions. Kaons of the short-lived type exist for only 0.89 × 10-10 seconds before each decays into 2 pions.
If you were one of the estimated 70,000 visitors to CERN during the 2013 Open Days – or one of the 2,000+ volunteers busily organizing visits, games and all manner of weird and wonderful activities – you might not recognize this photo! Fifty years ago CERN’s Open Days were conducted on a much more modest scale.
The IBM 7090 was installed at CERN in 1963. It was about four times more powerful than the 709. The computer was connected to a device call a Hough-Powell digitizer (HPD) – a machine that scanned films from bubble chambers, measured important tracks, and sent the information directly to the 7090. A second device, "Luciole", was also connected to the computer, providing fully automatic measurements from spark-bubble chambers.
This remarkable photo, used on the cover of the May 1963 CERN Courier, captures the passage of protons extracted from CERN’s Proton Synchrotron (PS).
Initially, the PS had operated with internal targets, but when a beam of higher intensity was needed the fast ejection system was developed to eject the beam towards external targets. During the afternoon of Sunday 12 May 1963 the PS became the source of the world's first beam of 25 GeV protons to travel freely in air.
A buzz of excitement marked the start of neutrino experiments at CERN in 1963. As many years of hard work were about to be put to the test, this spoof advertisement appeared on the concrete shielding near the heavy liquid bubble chamber.
It needed more than a broom to tackle the giant icicles decorating CERN’s labs and offices during the great freeze of 1963. The village of La Brévine, 150km away, lived up to its reputation as Little Siberia with temperatures down to -38°C, while cyclists - and even motorists - enjoyed themselves riding across Europe’s frozen lakes and icy rivers.
By 1962, with CERN’s long-term accelerator construction plans still not fixed, some member states were growing impatient to pursue their own projects. A meeting was called for January 1963, where Europe’s top high-energy physicists would thresh out the whole question of coordinating national initiatives with those carried out at CERN.
John Linsley detected first cosmic ray with an energy higher than 1020 electronvolts (eV) in New Mexico, US, in 1962. This was the highest energy cosmic ray particle ever detected at the time. He made this discovery using a ground-based array of detectors. His observations suggested that not all cosmic rays are confined to the galaxy and gave evidence for a flattening of the cosmic ray spectrum at energies above 1018 eV.
On 29 September 1961, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia gave formal notice to CERN of its intention to withdraw from the organization at the end of the year, after Yugoslavia struggled to pay its yearly contributions. This formal notice confirmed an informal advance notice given on 19 May, by a letter that was circulated to the CERN council.
On 6 March 1961 François de Rose pressed the button to run the first program on CERN’s new IBM 709. The existing Ferranti Mercury computer had been working at full stretch, but increasing user demand left CERN with a backlog of computing work by the end of 1959. A larger and faster machine was essential, though with the two operating together CERN soon got its first taste of compatibility problems.
The IBM 709 arrived at CERN in January 1961. It was inaugurated at an official ceremony on 6 March that year, where computer engineer Lew Kowarski delivered a speech (see image).
With Mercury and the 709 operating together, CERN had its first experience of compatibility problems. This was a continuing source of difficulty as various different computers came into operation at CERN. Many of CERN's programs were also used on a range of computers in its 13 member states.
If you’re not ready to start the New Year yet, how about a trip back in time instead? In January 1961 staff were invited to watch CERN’s first documentary film.
Conferences are a great way to promote international scientific communication, and CERN soon acquired considerable experience in running them. In January 1961 it set up a Scientific Conference Secretariat to share this expertise, organizing conferences in collaboration with local scientific institutions abroad as well as those on-site. In the early days the Secretariat had a staff of just one person - Miss Steel.
From the minutes of the CERN council, dated 14 June 1960:
In a letter dated 22 April 1960, the president of the council asked delegates of the member states whether their governments would be prepared to confirm the attitude which they had adopted in 1956 regarding an application by Spain for membership of CERN.
(image: The isotope separator in 1960)
Plans for an isotope separator are published in the proceedings of the International Symposium held in Vienna, May 1960. This isotope separator is built by CERN's Nuclear Chemistry Group (NCG) and used to measure the production rate of radionuclides produced in different targets irradiated with 600 MeV protons from a CERN Synchrocyclotron (SC) beam. Researchers observe high production rates showing that the SC would be the ideal machine for setting up a dedicated experiment for on-line production of rare isotopes.
The PS came into operation on 24 November 1959, breaking existing records as the world’s biggest and most powerful particle accelerator. The official ceremony a few months later (you can watch part of it in this 1960 documentary) was a celebration of the technical achievement but also of successful European co-operation that paved the way for progress in the aftermath of World War II. A special issue of the CERN Courier gave more information about the new machine.
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world’s biggest and most powerful particle accelerator, but for a few months in 1959 the Proton Synchrotron (PS) shared the same distinction.
The Proton Synchrotron (PS) accelerated protons for the first time on 24 November 1959, becoming for a brief period the world’s highest energy particle accelerator. With a beam energy of 28 GeV, the PS became host to CERN’s particle physics programme, and provides beams for experiments to this day.
Austria signed as a member state of CERN on 1 June 1959. The press release announcing the accession noted:
Following applications made in 1958 by the Austrian government, the council agreed unanimously to accept Austria as the 13th European member state to participate in CERN. Welcoming Mr W Goertz, permanent representative of Austria to the UN, MF de Rose, president of CERN council said:
The 30cm liquid hydrogen bubble chamber (HBC30) - here seen being inserted into its vacuum tank in March 1959 - was the first bubble chamber to be used for physics experiments at CERN. After testing with nitrogen and hydrogen it was placed in the Synchro-Cyclotron, and its first five days of operation in November yielded 100,000 photographs. In March 1960 it was moved to the proton Synchrotron, and by the time it ceased operations in spring 1962 it had consumed 150 km of film.
Fans of vintage British TV science documentaries might enjoy this early precursor to Tomorrow’s World. On weekdays (when the outside broadcast cameras weren’t needed to cover sports fixtures!) the Eye on Research crew visited scientific laboratories and research centres to discuss topical issues.
CERN's first computer, a huge vacuum-tube Ferranti Mercury, was installed in 1958. It was one million times slower than today's large computers. Though the Mercury took 3 months to install – and filled a huge room – its computational ability didn't quite match that of a modern pocket calculator. "Mass" storage was provided by four magnetic drums each holding 32K × 20 bits – not enough to hold the data from a single proton-proton collision in the Large Hadron Collider.
Before electronic computers were available at CERN, a Dutchman called Willem "Wim" Klein performed astonishing feats of mental arithmetic to help his colleagues with their calculations.
Klein was born in Amsterdam in the Netherlands on 4 December 1912. He first displayed his mathematical talents in circuses around Europe. He joined CERN's Theory Division in 1958, where he was in considerable demand as a calculator in the days before the first electronic computers.
During the construction of CERN in the 1950s, most staff were lodged in temporary offices nearby. But the theoretical physics group (one of three study groups set up in 1952 as part of the ‘provisional CERN’) began life at the Theoretical Physics Institute, University of Copenhagen. Niels Bohr led the group until September 1954, then handed over to Christian Møller. The photo shows CERN’s Director General Cornelius Bakker signing an agreement on the legal status of the group in Denmark in 1956.
A log book entry written by Wolfgang Gentner, the head of SC Division, and signed by various colleagues, tells us that a short celebration was held on the 1st of August 1957 following the successful appearance of the first circulating beam.
In June 1957, V. F. Weisskopf proudly announced acquisition of an instrument with unique possibilities - an intricate mechanism for testing complicated physics theories and producing new ideas. But it required careful handling! Inexperienced operators testing a theory would often see no reaction at first, or just hear faint noises reminiscent of German expressions such as “Ganz dumm” and “Sind sie noch immer da?” It was rather bulky, almost spherical in shape, and very much dependent on the correct fuel supply.
The 600 MeV Synchrocyclotron (SC), built in 1957, was CERN’s first accelerator. It provided beams for CERN’s first experiments in particle and nuclear physics. In 1964, this machine started to concentrate on nuclear physics alone, leaving particle physics to the newer and much more powerful Proton Synchrotron (PS).
The journal Physical Review receives the paper Antineutrons Produced from Antiprotons in Charge-Exchange Collisions by a second team working at the Bevatron – Bruce Cork, Glen Lambertson, Oreste Piccione and William Wenzel. The paper – which announces the discovery of the antineutron – is published in the issue dated November 1956.
Safety is top priority in any scientific research laboratory, and fire prevention was an important issue from the earliest days of CERN. The newly constructed buildings were fitted with smoke detectors, and voluntary fire brigades and first aid teams were set up among staff members.
On 14 June 1956 a telegram from Frederick Reines and Clyde Cowan informed Wolfgang Pauli that neutrinos had been detected from fission fragments - nearly 26 years after Pauli first postulated the neutral particle as a solution to the missing energy during beta decay.
When CERN was just over a year old, the Scientific Policy Committee was asked its opinion “as to the advisability of purchasing [an] electronic computer”. Lew Kowarski thought we should buy one, and his proposal (CERN/SPC/13) makes fascinating reading. He gives an overview of the current state of the market and outlines some issues to be considered. These included costs and staffing requirements, but also the fact that physicists were unlikely to bother learning to use this new machine unless it was clear that the effort was worthwhile!
A paper titled "Observation of antiprotons," by Owen Chamberlain, Emilio Segrè, Clyde Wiegand, and Thomas Ypsilantis, members of what was then the Radiation Laboratory of the University of California at Berkeley in the US, appeared in the 1 November 1955 issue of Physical Review Letters. It announced the discovery of a new subatomic particle, identical in every way to the proton – except its electrical charge was negative instead of positive.
A month before the paper appeared, The New York Times had put the news on the front page:
Voting for the Committee members of CERN’s newly formed Staff Association closed at midnight on 11 July 1955; Messrs J.A. Giebel, K. Johnson, J. P. Stroot, E. Zaccheroni, J. Ball, R. Siegfried, Miss C. de Mol and Miss A. Schubert were duly elected, with 177 votes cast.