Microsoft founder opens the Windows of the micro-world

On Monday 8 June Bill Gates came to CERN for a short visit along with his son Rory. The Bulletin managed to grab a few words with him and discovered how much he appreciates (and supports) fundamental science.

After meeting CERN Director-General Rolf Heuer, Gates and his son were given an introduction to CERN by Sergio Bertolucci, Director for Research, and then had a tour of the LHC tunnel, the Control Centre and SM18 with Mike Lamont before heading down to the CMS cavern guided by Jim Virdee, CMS Spokesperson, and Wolfram Zeuner.

Millions of kids around the world dream of becoming the next Bill Gates, but Gates’ own son may well dream of becoming a physicist. "One of the reasons we wanted to come here is because Rory, my 10-year-old son, has shown a real interest in physics", explains Gates. "Rory has received some extra home-schooling in science. A lot of what we’ve been discussing has been building up to actually being able to see the state-of-the-art machine. So, I thought it would be fun for both him and me to come here".

But Gates’ interest in education stretches further than just nurturing his own son’s fascination with physics. Funding educational programmes is one of the main focuses of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest charitable foundation in the world, which Gates set up and donated much of his wealth to in 2004. "We need more kids doing maths and physics – it’s good for them and it’s good for the peaceful innovation of the world," he said. But in Gates’ opinion part of the problem is the way science is taught. "Even some very bright people can find science intimidating and uninteresting. But it can be explained well," he continued. "I just bought the rights to the Feynman ‘Messenger Lectures’ that he gave in Cornell [University] in the 1960s. The BBC filmed Feynman giving what I think are the best physics lectures I have ever seen. So we are going to make these lectures free for anyone to watch."

As one might expect from a renowned technophile, Gates puts an emphasis on science and technology in his philanthropy. The motto of the Gates Foundation is ‘bringing innovations in health and learning to the global community’, and much of the money donated is focused on technological solutions to the problems facing the world. For example, the Foundation aims to help combat health problems in some of the poorest areas of the world by funding the development of vaccines. "I think that innovation and science is underestimated as a key force that can improve the state of the world. And even discoveries in most basic science, like physics, biology and material science, can be mapped into vaccines or drugs or chips, or materials. Part of the reason I’m so optimistic about the years ahead is that I think innovation and science are going to progress way beyond what people expect".

"The world is trying lots of things to make sure that young crazy ideas get backed," he concludes. "Of course the world will make mistakes, but the harder we try, the better."