CERN on show

Last week I was in Ankara to discuss Turkish accession to CERN, and to take part in the opening of CERN’s main travelling exhibition at the Middle East Technical University. I was astonished at the crowds of people the exhibition drew in, and I’m told that it’s a similar story wherever it goes. Our smaller exhibition stands are also much in demand across our Member States.


You don’t have to travel to Ankara, however, to experience the same phenomenon – just go to Building 33 any time from Monday to Saturday and you’ll get the idea. But although we’ve worked hard over recent years to increase our capacity for visits to a level approaching 80,000 per year, there’s still a long waiting list. And that’s a problem.

The success of the Visits Service rests on the goodwill of all the CERNois who volunteer to be guides, as well as those who graciously allow increasing numbers of visitors into their workplaces. Our guides do a fantastic job of explaining CERN’s work in clear language, and they are all trained in terms of safety for the places they take people.

Problems can arise when people who are put off by our 4-6 month waiting list come in through the side door, via people they know who work here. On many occasions last year, that led to serious overcrowding at visit locations, degrading the experience for everyone. Large numbers of people also have a nuisance effect on people working, eroding the goodwill we rely on, and it leads to direct competition with the official Visits Service for resources such as transport.

What can we do about it? The best way forward for anyone who wants to help show CERN to the world is to become a guide and thereby help the Visits Service drive capacity higher. This kind of work is an important part of CERN’s mission, and for CERN staff is recognised as such by the Organization’s hierarchy. Of course, I don’t want to outlaw private visits: it’s normal that CERNois should wish to show their workplace to friends and family, but the bottom line is that it is essential for the vast majority of visits to be organized by the Visits Service. Those that can’t should be coordinated with the Visits Service to ensure that every single one of our visitors leaves with the best possible impression of CERN.

To sign up as a guide, contact

Rolf Heuer