From the archive

Pauli travels to Sweden to receive the Nobel prize

10 December 1946

The date on this menu for Wolfgang Pauli’s Nobel prize festivities is 1946, yet he was awarded the  physics prize for his exclusion principle in 1945. In a letter to Niels Bohr (25 November 1945) he explains the delay:

“Dear Bohr! It was a great exciting surprise that the Nobel prize was awarded to me this year although I had thought already a week earlier, when the congratulation telegramm of you and your wife arrived, that it was a good omen …  The decision, whether or not I should go to Stockholm on December 10 was really not easy. The American authorities kindly offered me exit and re-enter permits for a trip to Stockholm and back for this very particular purpose. Considering all circumstances of the present situation, particularly the possibility of a delay by such a trip of my getting naturalized, I finally decided to postpone my participation in the ceremony in Stockholm to next year after having heard that Stern and Rabi are doing the same…”

Pauli was working in the USA during the war, and US naturalization was particularly important to him because his application for Swiss nationality had been turned down in 1938 and was not granted until 1949.

Timeline: 
From the archive

CERN is born, mother and child are doing well

15 February 1952

 

“We have just signed the Agreement which constitutes the official birth of the project you fathered at Florence. Mother and child are doing well, and the doctors send you their greetings.” This was the message sent to Isidor Rabi on 15 Feb 1952 by the signatories of an agreement establishing the provisional European Council for Nuclear Research.

Scientists and politicians had been pressing for the creation of a European laboratory to pool resources depleted after World War Two, and Nobel laureate Rabi added his support at the fifth UNESCO General Conference (Florence, June 1950), where he tabled a resolution to “assist and encourage the formation of regional research centres and laboratories in order to increase and make more fruitful the international collaboration of scientists…” 

The first resolution concerning the establishment of a European Council for Nuclear Research was adopted at an intergovernmental meeting of UNESCO in Paris in December 1951. The provisional Council, set up in 1952, was dissolved when the European Organization for Nuclear Research officially came into being in 1954, though the acronym CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire) was retained.

Timeline: 
From the archive

Redesigning the Proton Synchrotron

25 August 1952

Too often trip reports are just boring administrative documents, but this one caused a radical rethink of the design for CERN’s Proton Synchrotron. Suddenly a relatively straightforward engineering challenge became a development project for an untested idea.

Plans were already underway for CERN’s large accelerator, a scaled-up version of Brookhaven’s Cosmotron, when Odd Dahl, Frank Goward and Rolf Wideröe visited Brookhaven in 1952. There they joined in discussions about a new strong-focusing (or alternating gradient focusing) technique, which meant smaller magnets could be used to guide particles round an accelerator provided they were arranged with their field gradients facing alternately inwards and outwards instead of the conventional outward-facing alignment. Dahl recommended laying aside plans for a 10 GeV accelerator for the time being in order to investigate the idea further (CERN-PS-S4).

It was a risky decision to follow this unexplored route, but one that paid off by allowing construction of a much more powerful machine at little extra cost. When the Proton Synchrotron came into operation in November 1959 it had an energy of 24 GeV, later increased to 28 GeV.

Timeline: 
From the archive

Signing the CERN Convention

1 July 1953

After long months of negotiation - success! The work of the provisional Council responsible for planning the new international laboratory for nuclear physics reached a successful conclusion on 1 July 1953 with the signature of the CERN Convention.

The drafting committee and the administrative and financial working group had worked at UNESCO House throughout the week leading up the Council’s sixth meeting in Paris (29-30 June) to finalize the document, and signature took place the next day at a conference held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Delegates of nine countries signed, with the remaining three expressing their intention to do so shortly.

The convention was gradually ratified by the 12 founding member states (Belgium, Denmark, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Yugoslavia) and the European Organization for Nuclear Research officially came into being on 29 September 1954. The text of the Convention is available here.

Timeline: 
From the archive

Settling into Geneva

5 October 1953

Even before the official creation of CERN in 1954, staff began to settle into temporary offices around Geneva. On 5 October 1953 part of the PS (Proton Synchrotron) Group, including Frank Goward, John Adams, Mervyn Hine, John and Hildred Blewett, Kjell Johnsen and Edouard Regenstreif, arrived to take up residence in offices that had been made available in the University of Geneva’s Institute of Physics . In the same month plans were made to convert the Villa de Cointrin (see photo), which later became the first headquarters for the CERN Directorate,  Administration and Finance Groups. The building was currently empty and in need of repair, and was being offered for an annual rent of around 3,000 CHF.

Timeline: 
From the archive

Construction of CERN begins

17 May 1954

A historic moment passed almost unnoticed on 17 May 1954, as the first excavation work started in the Meyrin countryside and construction of CERN began. Future events of this kind were celebrated with speeches, press coverage and parties, but this was a quiet and purely unofficial ceremony.

Geneva had been chosen as the site for the proposed laboratory in October 1952 and approved by a referendum in the canton of Geneva in June 1953, but CERN’s status was provisional until completion of the ratification process at the end of September 1954. Nonetheless, CERN staff were already hard at work, and those based locally (at the Institut de Physique and Villa Cointrin) assembled in Meyrin along with representatives of the Genevan authorities and the chairman of the provisional CERN Council, Robert Valeur, to watch work begin on their new home.   

Timeline: 
From the archive

CERN exists!

29 September 1954

A telegram from Jean Mussard informed Edoardo Amaldi (Secretary-General of the provisional CERN) that the CERN Convention had finally come into force on 29 September, when France and Germany deposited their instruments of ratification at UNESCO House in Paris.

Three more member states were yet to ratify – this took another five months – but the necessary conditions had now been met. The provisional Council ceased to exist and, after a few days during which Amaldi was the sole owner of all CERN’s assets, the new organization held its first meeting in Geneva on the 7-8 October 1954.

Timeline: 
From the archive

The new CERN Council

7 October 1954

When the CERN Convention was signed in 1953, it was assumed that the long-awaited European laboratory would soon become a reality. But ratification formalities took longer than expected. Meanwhile work on the ground was forging ahead, so it was a relief for the interim governors when the new CERN Council finally took office some 15 months later.

An important item at the first Council meeting on 7-8 October 1954 was the transfer of all assets and liabilities of the interim organization. Council officers and senior CERN staff were also appointed, various procedural, financial and staff questions settled, and a provisional organizational structure adopted. This structure was approved at the second meeting in February 1955 (shown in photo) along with the headquarters agreement with Switzerland. CERN was finally starting to take shape! If you’re interested to know more, the minutes of the first meeting are available here.

Timeline: 
From the archive

“OERN is difficult to pronounce in most languages”

2 November 1954

Has it ever struck you as odd that the initials CERN refer to an organization that ceased to exist when the current organization was created? If so, you’re not alone.

The Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire was a provisional body set up in 1952 to establish a world-class fundamental physics research centre in Europe. It was dissolved when it had successfully accomplished its mission but by then, of course, the acronym CERN had stuck. Most people felt this wouldn’t cause any particular legal or other complications, though Lew Kowarski (second from the left in this 1955 photo) considered the idea “so silly as to be intolerable”. You can read Director of Administration Dakin’s memo here.

Timeline: 
From the archive

Baby CERN’s first Christmas

20 December 1954

In his seasonal greetings to CERN’s Director-General and staff, the President of the CERN Council acknowledged the difficulties faced by a young organization and the devotion shown by all those involved in overcoming them.

The reply, sent a few days later, emphasized how much had been achieved: “…Less than three months after its official birth, CERN finds itself in possession of an active programme of research and building in full progress, adequate accommodation and a considerable staff. The stage of teething troubles is behind us; our approaching adolescence will bring difficulties of its own but we can look ahead with confidence…”

Timeline: 
From the archive

Pages

Subscribe to From the archive

You are here