Today in History – September 10, 2008 – Start-Up of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a gigantic particle accelerator, 27 kilometers in circumference, that spans the border between Switzerland and France. The ‘hadrons’ are two beams of protons that travel in opposite directions inside the circular accelerator, gaining energy until they are moving very close to the speed of light. Teams of physicists are using collisions between these protons to recreate the conditions just after the Big Bang and explore new realms of physics not available to experiments previously.
The LHC is the largest and most complex scientific experiment ever developed. An indication of the complexity of this effort is the electrical and mechanical problem that arose shortly after start-up in one of the thousands of magnets used to guide the protons around the accelerator. This problem was analyzed and corrected in time for the collection of data during the next operation of the accelerator. The LHC has now exceeded the records for the energy explored by particle physicists.
Another important historical event was on May 17, 1954 with the official groundbreaking of the CERN laboratory in Geneva. A small number of scientists first envisioned CERN vision as an opportunity to bring nations together through science and build a world-class laboratory for nuclear and particle physics in Europe. CERN’s founding convention emphasized that that it should foster international collaboration, promote contacts between and interchange of scientists and make its results freely available through advanced training and publications. “When the 12 founding Member States ratified the CERN convention on 29 September 1954,” explains CERN’s Director General Robert Aymar, “they gave the new organization a mission to provide first class facilities, to coordinate fundamental research in particle physics, and to help reunite the countries of Europe after two world wars.“
Today, CERN has achieved its mission and more, hosting around half the world’s particle physicists, with membership that includes 60 countries and 8,000 scientists; it boasts a large number of Nobel Laureates as well. CERN supports the world’s largest set of complex scientific instruments so study the basic particles of matter and related energy releases when they collide. “It is no accident,” says Aymar, “that many of the countries about to join the European Union are already members of CERN. Scientific collaboration has proved to be a valuable step on the way to collaboration at the political level.“
The 50th anniversary of CERN officially began on 8 March 2004 with the launch of a Swiss postage stamp dedicated to CERN (see upper left figure).
CERN has also stimulated a number of other developments beyond fundamental particle physics. It was here that the World Wide Web was launched when CERN’s Tim Berners-Lee submitted a proposal titled: Information Management : a Proposal” in 1990. His idea, later refined by collaborator Robert Cailiau, was to “merge the technologies of personal computer, computer networking and hpertext into a powerful and easy to use global information system“. The first web server in the U.S. came on-line in December 1991 at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) in Menlo Park, California. The first browsers in the X-window system. The version called Mosaic published in 1993 by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois became the version that was most widely used with its easy to use user interface and ability to run on a wide range of computer platforms. The world’ first WWW conference was held at CERN in May 1994, attended by 400 users and developers. By the end of 1994, the Web had 10,000 servers and exponentially increasing traffic. The rest is history. In March 2009, CERN celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Web.
Post by guest blogger, Bruce Mason, PI for the comPADRE digital library for physics and astronomy education.
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