Science and Society in harmony

Yesterday I spoke at a conference hosted by an organization called Melody for Dialogue, and it struck me that this organization has much in common with a movement that contributed to CERN’s foundation 55 years ago. That movement was called ‘Atoms for Peace’. Notice the similarity? What is it that melody and atoms have in common that they can be used to promote dialogue and peace? I believe that they are both expressions of something shared by all of humanity. Whatever culture we belong to, music is a part of it. And wherever in the world we’re from, we’re all curious about our surroundings. Science and music are two of the things that make us human.

The theme of the conference was environmental awareness, and I told the participants that although CERN’s research won’t bring immediate solutions to the pressing environmental problems of the world, if it were not for similar curiosity-driven research in the past, much of what we take for granted today would not exist. No Einstein, no GPS systems. No quantum mechanics, no modern electronics. No Large Hadron Collider? Well, it’s too early to say, but applications will certainly come. Investments made in the past at CERN for basic research are allowing CERN to carry out an experiment that will help in understanding our environment. With facilities at CERN, we can simulate part of the spectrum of cosmic ray particles bombarding the Earth’s atmosphere. We can also simulate the upper atmosphere. Put the two together and you have an experiment that can measure the impact of cosmic rays on how clouds form. This is just one modest example of fundamental science leading to tangible benefit - without basic research, there’s no applied science. And it’s also an example of how good things can happen when disciplines merge. So, while particle physics research must remain our main focus, we are also enriched by engagement with broader societal issues.

Rolf Heuer