Viewpoint: CERN’s role on the European stage

CERN’s new director-general, Robert Aymar, believes that the CERN Council should strengthen its mission to “sponsor co-operation” in particle physics across Europe.

When the convention for the establishment of a European organization for nuclear research was signed in Paris on 1 July 1953, the 12 states who signed up to the formal establishment of CERN agreed that: “The basic programme of the organization shall comprise: (a) the construction of an international laboratory for research on high-energy particles; (b) the operation of the laboratory specified above.” (Article II, paragraph 3.) So CERN was born, and it is well known that over the past 50 years the laboratory has fulfilled its mandate extremely well in these respects. However, the paragraph continues with a third part: “(c) the organization and sponsoring of international co-operation in nuclear research, including co-operation outside the laboratory.” This part of CERN’s mission is less well known, and it seems to have been less strongly implemented by the member states.

As I begin my mandate as director-general of CERN, in the organization’s 50th anniversary year, it seems increasingly important that the member states should place more emphasis on this neglected aspect of CERN’s mission. In particular I believe that CERN should come to be recognized as the place where the European programme in particle physics is coordinated, shared and supported by all the European players in the field.

The connection between CERN and the rest of Europe is of the utmost importance, especially now that the European Commission (EC) is doing a great deal to help science. In March 2000 the Lisbon European Council endorsed the project of creating a European Research Area (ERA), as a central element of its strategy for Europe to become, by 2010, “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world”. The aim is that connections in Europe in one discipline can help to strengthen the players, and that synergy between laboratories in different countries can avoid a wasteful duplication of effort in research and development.

Within this context we now have the opportunity for the EC to help us recover the “lost” part of CERN’s original mission. Building a research area across Europe requires coordination, and in particle physics this coordination should be the task of the CERN Council. In this way, the investment of the member states in CERN could be seen more overtly to be fed back into those states.

What steps can we now take? CERN’s co-operation with other European particle-physics laboratories should be strengthened and deepened, with more collaboration towards common goals. In line with the policy of the EC for structuring the ERA, CERN could participate with other laboratories in research and development and new infrastructure, and help to launch a variety of studies in co-operation with other laboratories. The programme of the CARE (Coordinated Accelerator Research in Europe) network, funded by the EC within Framework Programme 6, is an example of this kind of initiative.

For many years there has been collaboration between CERN and groups in the member states in detector development and data analysis, for example, which has been driven by an obvious necessity. However, collaboration in the accelerator domain has been less common, and competence in accelerators has become more concentrated at a few centres, such as CERN and DESY. The benefits back in the member states themselves have therefore not been as obvious as in the case of the physics collaborations, where there has been clearly defined work to be done within member states, with related local benefits.

The time now seems right for the accelerator domain to follow this example, with multilateral collaborations between CERN and other laboratories in the member states. This would be collaboration at a system level rather than at a component level as has so far generally been the case. CERN can in this respect take on a specific role in coordinating the realization of the infrastructure. Interestingly, such collaborative work has occurred in the past, but mostly with non-member states, such as the Russians, for example, rather than with the member states.

As an example of what might be possible in future, consider CLIC (the compact linear collider) project. This year the CLIC Test Facility 3 (CTF3) will be used to demonstrate the technical feasibility of the key concepts of the new radiofrequency power source for CLIC, and for further tests with high field gradients. This facility has already received some technical contributions from other laboratories: INFN (Italy), LAL (France), RAL (UK) and Uppsala (Sweden) in Europe, and SLAC in the US. Nevertheless, development work for CLIC could provide the right opportunity to set up a collaborative venture with a much larger group of European laboratories, to be blessed by the CERN Council.

So my vision is to see CERN, in particular at the level of the CERN Council, develop beyond its mission to supervise the CERN laboratory, and to develop a new – or rather old – objective to promote and steer the activities in particle physics across Europe. Remember that CERN belongs to the member states and also to their laboratories: CERN belongs to you!

About the author

Robert Aymar, CERN.