Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire

CERN is an acronym for "Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire." This is French for "the European Council for Nuclear Research." The acronym is no longer correct, strictly speaking - the official name is now the European Organization for Nuclear Research - but the moniker CERN has been retained because it is handy and recognizable (OERN just doesn't roll off the tongue quite as well). CERN refers to both the organization itself and the research center where the aforementioned nuclear research takes place.

Who? 20 European countries comprise CERN. Current (December 2004) CERN Member States are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. CERN members provide funds for the construction of CERN research facilities and sit on the Council; the Council makes all important decisions regarding CERN research and the construction of research facilities.

What? Physicists study particles - small particles. To study these small particles physicists must smash them into other particles or, alternatively, stationary targets (which, incidentally, are also made out of particles). This is where CERN comes in. CERN provides people interested in particle and high-energy physics with the particle accelerators necessary to perform these kinds of experiments.

Where? Ground was broken on the first CERN office and laboratory facilities in 1955 outside of Geneva, Switzerland. In 1965 an agreement with France extended CERN facilities onto French soil to accommodate the Intersecting Storage Rings (ISR) facility, the world's first proton collider. Subsequent construction at CERN has extended the complex farther into both Switzerland and France.

When? In 1952 a provisional organization - the Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire - was formed as a result of 2 UNESCO meetings which had indicated a strong desire on the part of 11 European nations to create a communal body for the purposes of nuclear research. This provisional CERN body wrote the CERN Convention, a document outlining the purposes of such a research consortium, its management structure, and the role member states would play in the regulation of such a body. In 1954 the governments of twelve nations approved the Convention and became the founding members of CERN: Federal Republic of Germany, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, Norway, The Netherlands, United Kingdom, Sweden, Switzerland and Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia would leave in 1961. The other CERN Member States, with their dates of entry, are:

Austria: 1959
Spain: 1961; exit in 1969; rejoined in 1983
Portugal: 1985
Finland: 1991
Poland: 1991
Hungary: 1992
Czech Republic: 1993
Slovak Republic: 1993
Bulgaria: 1999

CERN's first particle accelerator, a 600 MeV proton Synchro-Cyclotron, went on-line in 1957. This device allowed particle physicists to observe the decay of a pion into an electron and a neutrino; wild parties ensued. Particle physicists found this event significantly more interesting than did the general public.

How? CERN exists to provide scientists with research facilities; CERN Member States provide the necessary funds to construct administrative and laboratory facilities. In the case of large particle accelerators, like the currently-under-construction Large Hadron Collider, these costs can run into the many billions of dollars (both Euro and American).
Because CERN Member States spend so much money on construction and maintenance of such facilities they generally do not fund research itself. Scientists wishing to perform experiments at CERN must obtain the bulk of their funding on their own. This is the pattern followed at the vast majority of government-funded research institutions.

Why? To increase our understanding of the universe, yo. No single European country could, from a practical standpoint, afford a nuclear physics research complex as sprawling and advanced as CERN. By pooling their resources CERN member nations have built one of the most advanced particle physics laboratories in the world, giving Europe a leg up in physics research without consuming the bulk of any one nation's budget for scientific research. CERN was one of the first large cooperative projects undertaken by a consortium of European nations; it laid the groundwork for other such endeavors such as the European Space Agency and the European Central Bank.

CERN and the World Wide Web
In 1989 Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau, two scientists working at CERN, began to collaborate on a way to access information across a wide range of computers systems in use at the CERN facility. They conceived of hypertext and HTML as a way to allow many users on different platforms access to the same information. The name "world wide web" was adopted for this proposed network of computers. CERN launched the World Wide Web in 1991 and the rest, as they say, is history.

Anyone with further interest in CERN should visit the CERN homepage at

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