From the archive

Featured content from CERN's archives, chosen by Anita Hollier.

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04 12, 1930

On 4 December 1930, Wolfgang Pauli wrote his famous letter to the ‘Dear radioactive ladies and gentlemen’ postulating a neutral particle to solve the puzzle of missing energy during beta decay. This letter forms the basis of a new work by ART@CREATIONS, Liebe Radioaktive Damen und Herren, featuring music composed by Petros Stergiopoulos and Oded Ben-Horin.

 

Pauli had to wait nearly 26 years for experimental confirmation of the neutrino. As he wrote to its discoverers, Frederick Reines and Clyde Cowan, ‘Everything comes to him who knows how to wait.’

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16 09, 1970
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the-european-southern-observatory-at-cern

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.

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06 08, 1959
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cern-courier-no-1

‘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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05 07, 1958
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8th-annual-international-conference-on-high-energy-physics

The 8th Annual International Conference on High Energy Physics – known as the Rochester Conference, from the name of its first venue – was held at the Physics Institute of the University of Geneva. The format for this meeting, which was also the 2nd CERN Conference on High Energy Nuclear Physics, differed slightly from previous years. To maximise use of time, rapporteurs were chosen summarise the developments in their field. You can read the proceedings here or look at some of the deliberations of the planning committee here.

Even if rapporteurs helped make the content clearer for participants, CERN’s Public Information Office pointed out that it ‘will probably be too hard to digest for the average reporter and reader, even if cleverly "popularized". Thus the main stress should be placed on personalities and the spirit of international cooperation.’ (See memo.) There were plenty of high profile physicists to choose from, including Nobel Prize winner Wolfgang Pauli; a rare recording of him speaking at the conference is online here.   

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14 06, 1960
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cern-commemorates-wolfgang-pauli

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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07 05, 1977
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inaugurating-the-super-proton-synchrotron

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.

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20 04, 1960
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first-session-of-the-cern-computer-users’-committee

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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01 03, 1972
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computers-why

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.

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24 02, 1959
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yesterday’s-tomorrow’s-world

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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07 01, 1963
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cern-on-ice

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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