From the archive

The Proton Synchrotron is up and running

24 November 1959

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 PS reached its full design energy of 24 GeV (later increased to 28 GeV) during the night of 24 November 1959, and the following morning project leader John Adams announced the achievement to staff in CERN’s main auditorium. In this photo he holds a vodka bottle that he had been given during a trip to the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna with instructions that the contents should be drunk when CERN passed the Russian Synchrophasotron’s world-record energy of 10 GeV. The bottle in his hand contains a photo of the 24 GeV pulse ready to be sent back to the Soviet Union!

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From the archive

Inauguration of the Proton Synchrotron

5 February 1960

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.

A press conference and visit were followed by lunch, then the official inauguration by Niels Bohr, speeches and a reception. The guest list included several hundred eminent scientific and political figures. The back cover of the commemorative brochure also featured VIPs - the men and women who made up the PS team.

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From the archive

First session of the CERN Computer Users’ Committee

20 April 1960

Demand for CERN’s Mercury computer had increased rapidly since its arrival in 1958, and by 1960 it was time to impose some sort of order on the users: “The present informal arrangement where every programmer may contact any operator makes it impossible for the operators to work efficiently.” A Users’ Committee was set up (see the minutes of the first meeting here), a reception desk was established and some rules laid down.

“Programmers have always the strong tendency to ask the operator to perform various emergency actions as soon as their programmes fail. If the operator follows such directions computer time is usually lost unnecessarily. If she refuses (as she is supposed to do), experience shows that people tend to argue. Consequently every effort will be made to have no programmer in the computer room outside normal working hours.” Any questions were to be directed to the Office of the Programming King, Mr Lake. 

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From the archive

CERN commemorates Wolfgang Pauli

14 June 1960

CERN has the privilege of housing the scientific archive of 1945 Nobel-prizewinning physicist Wolfgang Pauli. This small but historically valuable collection was donated by Pauli’s widow who, with the help of friends, tracked down originals or copies of his numerous letters. This correspondence, with Bohr, Heisenberg, Einstein and others, provides an invaluable resource on the development of 20th century science.

Franca Pauli can be seen here with two of CERN’s founding fathers, Francis Perrin and François de Rose, at the inauguration of CERN’s Pauli Memorial Room (Salle Pauli) on 14 June 1960 (press release, in French). The Archive also includes photographs, manuscripts, notes, and a rare audio recording of Pauli lecturing in 1958. Many items have been digitized and are available online; more information is available here.

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From the archive

Miss Steel and the Scientific Conference Secretariat

1 January 1961

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.

A keen traveller and one of the great characters of CERN, E. W. D. Steel brought experience from an international career in refugee work when she joined the Organization as a secretary in 1955. She soon discovered that conference organizing committees generally had plenty of scientific knowledge, but were less skilled in dealing with the practicalities. She also observed that “most theoretical physicists are delightful people but they are often nervous and highly strung and need to be handled with care”! Her autobiography A ‘One and Only’ Looks Back is filled with anecdotes of a rich and rewarding life.  

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From the archive

Matter in question

16 January 1961

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.

CERN was of growing interest to journalists, including those in ‘the field of television and moving pictures, news and featurial films’, and by the end of 1958 the organization decided it was time to make a film of its own. The contract was awarded to Georges Pessis in May, and filming soon began. A team of CERN advisors carefully considered all aspects of the work, including what it should be called. After some brainstorming they settled on Matter in Question for the English version. The first private viewing took place on 12 July 1960; the head of the Public Information Service told Pessis that the photography had been very favourably received, and no one had been too critical of the music – possibly jazz wasn’t to everyone’s taste.

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From the archive

Inauguration of the IBM 709

6 March 1961

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.

Planning the inauguration of the IBM required a certain delicacy. CERN’s choice of an American computer over European ones had provoked some grumbling, and it was also important that no major Swiss academic institution was overlooked when issuing the invitations. There had been discussion of “a press conference when we could provide a reasonable number of journalists with information and, since this seemed to be required, drinks”, but in the end CERN provided facilities for a press gathering but let IBM organize this themselves. The inauguration remained a more scholarly affair; guests were treated to lunch, speeches, and a CERN visit – and a short musical performance by the new computer.

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From the archive

Summoning the Founding Fathers

20 December 1962

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.

Reaching agreement between so many countries was never going to be easy, so Director-General Weisskopf suggested a pre-meeting of even more important people – CERN’s “Founding Fathers”. He felt an “informal exchange of view among people who are beyond the pure scientific level” - people committed to CERN’s aims and with experience in governmental matters – would help find “the best way in which to prepare a sympathetic response for the various European countries”. Discussions began over dinner at Le Béarn in Geneva on 19 December, and continued the next day. You can read the minutes of the meeting here. The top physicists duly met January, and became the European Committee for Future Accelerators. 

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From the archive

CERN on ice

7 January 1963

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.

The Swiss electricity network struggled to cope with high demand, reduced production and the failure of a high-tension cable bringing power from Germany. In response, CERN limited its consumption as much as possible, modifying or cutting the experimental programme until things improved. See more photos of CERN in the 1963 snow here.

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From the archive

The lighter side of neutrino experiments

2 May 1963

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.

CERN inventions such as the fast ejection system, proposed in 1959 by Berend Kuiper and Günther Plass, and the magnetic horn, which earned Simon van der Meer his share of the Nobel prize for physics in 1984, had enabled CERN to produce the most intense beam of neutrinos in the world. The first run in June was anxiously awaited, but everything ran smoothly. During seven weeks a total of 4000 events were observed in the spark chamber and 360 in the bubble chamber, comparing very favourably with the 56 spark chamber events found in the previous neutrino experiment in Brookhaven.

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From the archive

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