From the archive

An Apollo 9 astronaut visits CERN

4 June 1969

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 Lunar Excursion Module was the small spacecraft that would separate from the parent capsule in lunar orbit to carry two astronauts down to the surface of the moon and back.


In the two days following Rusty’s talk a further 1,250 people watched the Apollo 9 film, and Rusty was able to return incognito for a good look round CERN. More photos and an audio recording of part of the question and answer session are available if you’d like to know more.

From the archive

The European Southern Observatory at CERN

16 September 1970

A new group set up at CERN in the 1970s had rather different objectives to those of the rest of the laboratory. Their main task was to build a 3.6 metre telescope to be sent to Chile, following signature of a collaboration agreement between the ESO and CERN on 16 September 1970.

The first meeting of the coordinating committee two years later reviewed progress and confirmed that ESO’s Sky Atlas Laboratory was also welcome to continue their work of mapping the southern sky at CERN. The groups relocated to the ESO’s new premises at Garching, Germany, in 1980. See the committee report, read the press release and Professor Blaauw’s article in the August 1970 CERN Courier, or enjoy some more photos of the teams at work.

From the archive

The world’s first proton-proton collider

27 January 1971

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.

The interconnected rings, 300 metres in diameter and fed from the Proton Synchrotron (PS), ran from March 1971 until December 1983. At the official inauguration on 16 October 1871, Werner Heisenberg handed the President of the CERN council, Edoardo Amaldi, a golden key that controlled the transfer of protons from the PS to the ISR, symbolizing their hopes that the new machine would be the key to a thorough understanding of the world of elementary particle physics. He said such a symbolic key should first be in the hands of the experimentalists.  At the closure ceremony on 26 June 1984, the key was formally handed back to the theorists, in the person of Viktor Weisskopf.

From the archive

New home for CERN apprentices

9 December 1971

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 apprenticeship programme had been set up in conjunction with the Geneva authorities to take advantage of the extraordinary range of specialist skills found at CERN. It began in 1966 with the enrolment of five young people, two in design office work, one as a laboratory assistant and two in administration. Starting at around the age of 15, they spent three or four years at CERN before moving on to further education or directly into employment.

From the archive

Computers: why?

1 March 1972

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.

In his introduction he explains that high-energy physics is not just about hunting down and photographing strange particles, as though they were so many rare animals. Other articles give details of electronics experiments, bubble chamber experiments, data acquisition and analysis, mathematical computing applications in theoretical studies and more. But it is perhaps the advertisements that really capture the state of the art nearly half a century ago.

From the archive

Completion of the SPS tunnel

31 July 1974

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.

The SPS was commissioned in 1976, and a highlight of its  career came in 1983 with the announcement of the Nobel prize-winning discovery of W and Z particles.

From the archive

Chatting about physics at the National People’s Congress

14 September 1975

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.

The visitors assured their hosts that Chinese physicists and engineers would be welcome at CERN for longer periods. ”At first, their reaction was polite agreement as to the desirability of such visits,” reported Viktor Weisskopf. “On September 14, we were received by a high government official: Wu Lein-fu, Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National Congress [centre front of photo]. This man supported the proposal of extended visits of Chinese physicists and engineers to CERN, by quoting a Chinese proverb: "One eye is better than a hundred ears”. I had the impression that, from then on, the Chinese physicists talked much more about extended visits to CERN." You can read more about it in the October 1975 issue of the CERN Courier.

From the archive

Inaugurating the Super Proton Synchrotron

7 May 1977

On 7 may 1977 Europe inaugurated the world’s largest accelerator – the Super Proton Synchrotron; you can read all about it in the CERN Courier.

But what was happening behind the scenes? Did you know that organising secretary, Miss Steel, set up a massive card index to keep track of the guests, entering all the details on 6,000 colour-coded cards? She also insisted on sending reply cards to the VIPs, even though treating them like ordinary mortals was considered infra dig; she said the higher you go in a hierarchy, the less legible signatures become, and she wanted to know who the replies came from. Logistics were further complicated by differing conceptions between the different countries as to what constituted an “official delegate”. Her unofficial report makes interesting reading too.

From the archive

CERN Staff Day

29 September 1979

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  

  next accelerator;    

May your staff be effective and   

your beams full of pep, 

  May you gain your objective of  

  constructing the LEP!” 


If you can bear to read more, scroll down to page four here - and take a look at one of one of the star attractions at the same time: the Fire Brigade’s 20-metre rescue chute.

From the archive

His Holiness the Dalai Lama visits CERN

30 August 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. After joining the visitors for lunch, some of CERN’s physicists gave short presentations on various aspects of CERN’s work, and a discussion explored the different viewpoints of Buddhists and physicists on a range of topics of mutual interest.

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