CERN’s role in the scientific global village

We’re proud of saying that there are over 100 nationalities at CERN, proof that people can overcome cultural boundaries in pursuit of common goals. We’re also proud of saying that our goals are noble ones: the understanding of the Universe, training of the highest quality, pushing the frontiers of technology and bringing nations together.

For over 50 years, CERN has pursued these goals as part of the global scientific village. We have enjoyed healthy collaboration, and competition, with other laboratories in other regions of the world. The flow of scientists around the world has been balanced, enriching all regions. Today, however, the landscape is changing for particle physics, and as responsible citizens of our global village, we also have to evolve.

The research facilities for CERN’s melting pot of nationalities are supported financially largely by the Organization’s 20 Member States. Other countries that make significant contributions to our projects may be granted the status of Observer by the CERN Council. And collaboration agreements established by Council allow scientists, mainly from beyond the European region, to participate in some of our programmes, though their home countries do not enjoy the other benefits of CERN membership.

This is a model that has worked well in the past, but is it the right one for the future? The LHC is the first global particle physics facility, but I hope it will not be the last. Whether future facilities are hosted here or elsewhere, CERN must retain its position as a globally respected research centre. It must retain its ability to support world-class infrastructures and it must retain its ability to fulfil its missions of discovery, training, technology and collaboration.

It is in part for these reasons that Council has established a working group to examine the geographic and scientific enlargement of CERN. Should we be extending our research into astroparticle physics, for example, as our convention allows? Should we be re-examining the definition of Europe for the sake of membership? And should we re-examine the three-tier system for participation in CERN projects that I’ve described above?

The working group will make its first report on these questions to Council in June. Also on the agenda of that meeting will be four new membership requests from European countries. I hope that these agenda points will combine to provide a positive outcome for all CERN’s Member States and other partners around the world, both present and future.

Rolf-Dieter Heuer