South Africa joins the ATLAS experiment

The ATLAS collaboration has increased its reach across Africa now that South Africa has joined Morocco as the second member country from that continent. This development follows a unanimous ballot at the meeting of the ATLAS collaboration board in Copenhagen on 2 July.

South Africa's contributions to high-energy particle physics began with physicists of South African origin who worked abroad, such as Stanley Mandelstam, well known for this work on the kinematics of particle interactions. The first observation of the neutrino in cosmic rays occurred in the 1960s in the ERPM gold mine near Boksburg after Friedel Sellschop alerted Fred Reines to this opportunity and then led the South African component of the research team.

South African collaboration at CERN started initially with participation in the NA43, NA59 and NA63 experiments and at the ISOLDE facility. CERN and South Africa then signed a co-operation agreement in 1992. The contributions of theorist Jean Cleymans to the statistical model of particle production in heavy-ion collisions led to South African participation in the ALICE experiment at the LHC from November 2001. CERN's John Ellis further encouraged the development of the co-operation with CERN.

The participation in ATLAS was initiated by the head of the South African iThemba Laboratory of Accelerator Based Sciences, Zeblon Vilakazi, who introduced Ketevi Assamagan of Brookhaven National Laboratory to South Africa. This led to the establishment of a new high-energy-physics group at the University of Johannesburg under Simon Connell, which is aligned with Assamagan's work in the muon-detector subsystem and on the Higgs and supersymmetry sectors. The new group was at first hosted within ATLAS by Brookhaven. At the same time, Peter Jenni, initially as ATLAS spokesperson, worked actively to develop and guide the process of the South African involvement in ATLAS over several years of discussions at both university and government level.

An important step in developing high-energy physics in South Africa was to unify all of the CERN-based activities into one coherent network, known as the SA-CERN Programme (ATLAS, ALICE, ISOLDE and theory). This network worked together on issues of Grid development, student training, schools planning, interaction with government and by applying jointly for support at a national level.

The programme has also attracted additional people to South Africa. Trevor Vickey moved recently to the University of the Witwatersrand and formed an experimental high-energy-physics group to work within ATLAS on the Semiconductor Tracker and various physics studies. The expression of interest to join ATLAS was made jointly by the Universities of Johannesburg and the Witwatersrand; the University of Cape Town will join soon.

CERN marks Lyn Evans' retirement in style

After 41 years at CERN, Lyn Evans has officially retired. For 30 of these years, Evans has been involved in one way or another with the LHC – as it has grown from the first designs in the early 1980s to become reality as the world's highest-energy particle collider, with the first results presented at this year's main summer conference (LHC results top the bill in Paris).

Evans came to CERN in 1969 as fellow in the Linac Group, moving to the 300 GeV project that would become the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS), soon after its approval. He went on to become heavily involved in the operation of the SPS as a proton–antiproton collider, which led to the discovery of the W and Z bosons at CERN and the award of the Nobel prize in physics to Carlo Rubbia and Simon van der Meer. From 1994 he led the LHC Project until the machine started up with first beam in September 2008.

In his time at CERN, Evans worked under a total of 10 directors-general, six of them during the LHC era. All of these six contributed, either in person or by video link, to a special colloquium, "The Large Hadron Collider – from Inception to Operation", which took place at CERN on 15 June to honour Evans on his retirement.

Herwig Schopper (1981–1988) began by recalling the Large Electron-Positron (LEP) collider as "the cradle of the LHC". The size of LEP became the size of the LHC, and the earlier collider gave birth also to a new era in experiments at CERN. With external finance playing an important role, the experiments became like institutes, involving the international community, especially after the US government abandoned the project for the Superconducting Super Collider.

Carlo Rubbia (1989–1993) joined in by video, offering a memory of when the SPS became the world's first proton–antiproton collider at 4.15 a.m. on 9 July 1981 – an event witnessed only by Rubbia, Evans and Sergio Cittolin in the SPS control room. In his talk that followed those of the directors-general, Evans noted Rubbia's seminal role. "Without the proton–antiproton collider we would not have known how to build the LHC," he said.

The LHC passed from a dream to a fully approved project under Chris Llewellyn Smith (1994–1998), who contributed by video link. In 1996, CERN Council agreed to the construction of the LHC in a single phase, thanks to the contribution of non-member states. In his appreciation of Evans, Llewellyn Smith noted his great help in working with these countries.

Luciano Maiani (1999–2003), also by video, recalled the "agitated times" during his mandate as director-general. These included the closure of LEP, just when there seemed to be some hints of the long-sought Higgs particle, and the rise in costs of the LHC. There were also happier times, with the main magnet production by industry getting into full swing.

Installation of the LHC was finally completed under Robert Aymar (2004–2008), who was also able to see the first beams pass round the new machine and host the official inauguration in October 2008. Aymar had been chair of the External Review Committee in 1993 that was mandated by CERN Council to evaluate the LHC project. As director-general he oversaw the resolution of the financial difficulties

Rolf Heuer, the current director-general, had the privilege of presenting the recent successes of the LHC, as the experiments rediscover the "Standard Model zoo" and beam commissioning continues at full speed. He then handed the floor to Evans, who spoke fondly about his time at CERN, delighting the audience with his memories of good times and bad.

The colloquium ended with a standing ovation for Evans – and two surprises. One was a small model of an LHC dipole, signed by the six directors-general and named the "Lyn Hadron Collider". The other, by video, was a live performance by the Morriston Orpheus Choir from Swansea, who had blessed the LHC with song in the CERN Control Centre on 12 October 2008. They finished with the Welsh national anthem. It was a proud moment for the man who, commenting in an interview with the BBC that he had travelled a lot for the LHC, recalled how on meeting the president of China, he thought to himself, "not bad for bloke from Aberdare".

• For all of the presentations, see