CERN as seen by its personnel

How are the various players in research experiencing the run-up to the restart of the LHC? How do they feel their work is perceived outside CERN? After interviewing the inhabitants of Meyrin, Divonne-les-Bains and Geneva on the subject of the LHC and CERN, the Bulletin went to put its questions to the CERN personnel themselves.

For some, working at CERN had always been a childhood dream. Today, as we approach the restart of the largest particle accelerator in the world, everybody is very enthusiastic about taking part in this adventure. In the words of a CMS physicist: "This is something that happens once in a scientist’s lifetime!"

But what do the researchers consider to be the most important thing we do at CERN? It’s difficult to pin them down to any one specific thing, so this question gets the virtually unanimous general reply: "the advancement of knowledge". Many also mention the concrete spin-offs of technology transfer. However, nobody can anticipate what developments will arise in this field: who could have predicted the development of GPS as an application of relativity? So, while future technological innovations cannot be predicted, all believe in the inherent "discovery potential" of fundamental research.

But outside the research facilities, does the world look at what’s happening at CERN? This question gets an unqualified yes. The scientists have the feeling that people are watching and above all that they are interested. Conscious that their work is frequently not well understood, they nevertheless consider that "people know that it is something important". In the view of one of the physicists interviewed, "never before has physics excited so much public interest". Despite the more outlandish theories last year expressing fears that the start-up of the LHC would generate dangerous black holes, the researchers think that the public takes rather a favourable view of their work.

Moreover, the scientific community throughout the world will benefit from the work carried out at CERN, since "CERN brings together people of different cultures and histories in an increasingly world-wide collaboration." Furthermore, it will be possible to transmit the data recorded by the experiments in the LHC instantly so that it can be analysed in laboratories throughout the world. As a South African scientist expresses it, this is "democratizing science". So, while the scientists believe that they will learn an enormous amount from their research, they also hope to contribute to furthering human knowledge.... and in their view this will be their most valuable achievement.

Antoine Cappelle

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