Giorgio Brianti 1930-2023

5 May 2023

Giorgio Brianti, a pillar of CERN throughout his 40-year career, passed away on 6 April at the age of 92. He played a major role in the success of CERN and in particular the LEP project, and his legacy lives on across the whole of the accelerator complex.

Giorgio began his engineering studies at the University of Parma and continued them for three years in Bologna, where he obtained his laurea degree in May 1954. Driven by a taste for research, he learned, thanks to his thesis advisor, that Edoardo Amaldi was setting up an international organization in Geneva called CERN and was invited to meet him in Rome in June 1954. In his autobiography – written for his family and friends – Giorgio describes this meeting as follows: “Edoardo Amaldi received me very warmly and, after various discussions, he said to me: ‘you can go home: you will receive a letter of appointment from Geneva soon’. I thus had the privilege of participating in one of the most important intellectual adventures in Europe, and perhaps the world, which in half a century has made CERN ‘the’ world laboratory for particle physics.”

Giorgio had boundless admiration for John Adams, who had been recruited by Amaldi a year earlier, recounting: “John was only 34 years old, but had a very natural authority. To say that we had a conversation would be an exaggeration, due to my still very hesitant English, but I understood that I was assigned to the magnet group”. After participating in the design of the main bending magnets for the Proton Synchrotron, Giorgio was sent by Adams to Genoa for three years to supervise the construction of 100 magnets made by the leading Italian company in the sector, Ansaldo. Upon his return, he was entrusted with the control group and in 1964 he was appointed head of the synchro-cyclotron (SC) division. After only four years he was asked to create a new division to build a very innovative synchrotron – the Booster – capable of injecting protons into the PS and significantly increasing the intensity of the accelerated current. He described this period as perhaps his happiest from a technical point of view. Adams – who had been appointed Director General of the new CERN-Lab II to construct the 400 GeV Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS) – also entrusted Giorgio with designing and building the experimental areas and their beam lines. The 40th anniversary of their inauguration was celebrated with him in 2018 and the current fixed-target experimental programme profits to this day from his foresight.

Giorgio has left us not only an intellectual but also a spiritual legacy

In January 1979 Giorgio was made head of the SPS division, but only two years later he was called to a more important role, that of technical director, by the newly appointed Director General Herwig Schopper. As Giorgio writes: “The main objectives of the mandate were to build the LEP… which was to be installed in a 27 km circumference tunnel over 100 m deep, and to complete the SPS proton-antiproton program, a very risky enterprise, but whose success in 1982 and 1983 was decisive for the future of CERN”. The enormous technical work required to transform the SPS into a proton-antiproton collider that went on to discover the W and Z bosons took place in parallel with the construction of LEP and the launch of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) project, which Giorgio personally devoted himself to starting in 1982.

The LHC occupied Giorgio for nearly 15 years, starting from almost nothing. As he writes: “It was initially a quasi-clandestine activity to avoid possible reactions from the delegates of the Member States, who would not have understood an initiative parallel to that of the LEP. The first public appearance of the potential project, which already bore the name Large Hadron Collider, took place at a workshop held in Lausanne and at CERN in the spring of 1984.”

The LHC project received a significant boost from Carlo Rubbia, who became Director General in 1989 and appointed Giorgio as director of future accelerators. While LEP was operating at full capacity during these years, under his leadership new technologies were developed and the first prototypes of high-field superconducting magnets were created. The construction programme for the LHC was preliminarily approved in 1994, under the leadership of Chris Llewellyn Smith. In 1996, one year after Giorgio’s retirement, the final approval was granted. Giorgio continued to work, of course! In particular, in 1996 he agreed to chair the advisory committee of the Proton Ion Medical Machine Study, a working group established within CERN aimed at designing and developing a new synchrotron for medical purposes for the treatment of radio-resistant tumours with carbon ion beams. The first centre was built in Italy, in Pavia, by the Italian Foundation National Centre for Oncological Hadrontherapy (CNAO). He was also an active member of the editorial board of the book “Technology meets Research,” which celebrated 60 years of interaction at CERN between technology and fundamental science.

Giorgio has left us not only an intellectual but also a spiritual legacy. He was a man of great moral rigour, with a strong and contemplative Christian faith, determined to achieve his goals but mindful not to hurt others. He was very attached to his family and friends. His intelligence, kindness, and generosity shone through his eyes and – despite his reserved character – touched the lives of everyone he met.


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