Celebrating science for peace

These last two weeks have underlined the significance of our 60th anniversary slogan: science for peace. 


The second Wilton Park event on science and religion that we’ve participated in took place in Divonne, bringing representatives of the world’s major religions together to discuss the potential for dialogue. It was a clear example of science facilitating conversations that might otherwise never have happened, and the report on the event should be well worth reading when it comes out later this year. We also saw the start of the International Conference on High Energy Physics, ICHEP, in Valencia, bringing physicists from around the world together. But what I want to focus on is the ceremony at UNESCO in Paris on 1 July marking the 61st anniversary of the CERN Convention.

It was at UNESCO in Paris on 1 July 1953 that the CERN Convention first saw the light of day. That historic occasion marked a turning point in European scientific history that would have ramifications for the way science is done globally. Thanks to the energy of a handful of visionary pioneers, channelled through the auspices of UNESCO, a new paradigm for scientific collaboration across borders was born.

The CERN Convention is a document remarkable for its brevity and vision. It laid out a charge for the fledgling Organization to create a centre of excellence for European science to rebuild after the wars, while at the same time providing a place where peoples from around the world could come together to work peacefully at the frontiers of knowledge. It did so under a governance structure that has stood the test of time; a structure that works on a consensual model in which each Member State has a voice, and in which everyone is pulling in the same direction.

Scientific excellence and international collaboration have guided CERN from the start. From 12 Member States, we have grown to 21. And from a handful of researchers and diplomats whose vision we embody today, our community has grown to over 10,000, representing about 100 nationalities. CERN’s missions also encompass education and innovation, and I’d like to conclude with a few words on the vital importance of education, particularly in the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

We hear much today of sustainable development, and when you think about it, that’s a very scientific concept. It’s no exaggeration to say that our children’s future depends on it, and if we are to deliver sustainable development, then science has to engage more strongly with upcoming generations than it has in recent years. We need a more scientifically engaged population, and the way to get there is through STEM. We set great store by all our missions, but in a year when we’re celebrating sixty years of science for peace, and a week which we’re celebrating the anniversary of a great joint undertaking of CERN and UNESCO, it seems apt to focus on the E of UNESCO: the key to a sustainable future.

Rolf Heuer