From the archive

Yesterday’s Tomorrow’s World

24 February 1959

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.

This was the BBC’s first regular science and technology series; it broadcast over forty episodes on a wide range of subjects between 1957 and 1962 (they are listed on BBC Genome). Presenting live from CERN on 24 February 1959, we see Raymond Baxter deploying all his famous interviewing skills to help some distinctly nervous scientists explain their work to the viewers. The soundtrack jumps a bit, but it’s still worth a look.

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From the archive

Preparing CERN’s HBC30 bubble chamber for testing

5 March 1959

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.

Bubble chambers were one of the main experimental tools used in high-energy physics during the 1950s and 1960s. They were filled with superheated liquid, and if a charged high-energy particle passed through the liquid started to boil along its path, producing a trail of tiny bubbles that could be photographed. CERN’s first bubble chamber was a small (10cm) trial model, developed to test this exciting new technique. Larger models soon followed, including the giantess Gargamelle and the Big European Bubble Chamber (BEBC).

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From the archive

CERN Courier No. 1

6 August 1959

‘It is a pleasure to introduce our long expected internal bulletin,’ wrote Director-General Cornelis Jan Bakker, ‘I hope it will benefit not only from your attention but also from the many suggestions which will certainly arise in CERN's fertile minds.’

The first CERN Courier featured visiting  VIPs, a forthcoming trip to Russia, feedback on the 13th CERN Council Session and a round-up of news at CERN and abroad (Other Peoples' Atoms). Behind the scenes, an introductory report from the editor discussed the objectives and format of the proposed journal, and also how to finance it. Disagreement about whether it would be ethically acceptable to include advertisements rumbled on for quite some time.

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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

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