Success and adaptation

Yesterday morning, the last colliding proton beams of 2013 were extracted from the LHC, heralding the start of the machine’s first long shutdown (LS1) and crowning its first three glorious years of running. I hardly need to tell the CERN community what a fabulous performance all the people running the machine, the experiments, the computing and all supporting infrastructures put in. Those people are you, and you all know very well what a great job everyone did.


Nevertheless, I would like to express my thanks to all the people who made this first LHC run such a success. Re-measuring the whole Standard Model in such a short period, and then completing it with the discovery of what looks increasingly like the Higgs boson, is no mean feat.

What I’d like to focus on today is another aspect of our field: its remarkable ability to adapt. When I started out in research, experiments involved a handful of people and lasted a few years at most. The timescale for the development of major new infrastructures was already long, stretching to perhaps a decade. Today, collaborations run to thousands of people, and experiment timescales to decades. I can well remember agonising in the 80s and 90s about what such growing numbers and lengthening timescales would mean for individual scientific creativity and for continuity of expertise. We need not have worried. Particle physics has adapted. Collaboration between labs at different phases in their research cycles has increased, continuity of knowledge has been codified, and management consultants have started to look at the particle physics community as a model for other areas of human endeavour.

As we move into a lengthy period in which no experimental facilities will be operational at CERN, the particle physics community will again be demonstrating its adaptability. In many ways, this is as much an achievement as the technical and scientific prowess I referred to in my opening paragraph.

Rolf Heuer