80 countries around the world participate in CERN's research.
CERN began in the 1950s as the European Organization for Nuclear Research. Today it is also known as the European Laboratory for Particle Physics. It is one of the world's most prestigious research centres. Its business is fundamental physics - finding out what makes our Universe work, where it came from and where it is going. At CERN, some of the world's biggest and most complex machines are used to study nature's tiniest building blocks, the fundamental particles. By colliding these minute particles of matter physicists unravel the basic laws of nature.
At work on the LEP accelerator.
The Laboratory provides state-of-the-art scientific facilities for researchers to use. These are accelerators that accelerate tiny particles to a fraction under the speed of light and detectors that behave like electronic eyes, making the particles visible.
CERN's accelerator complex is built around three principal inter-dependent accelerators. The oldest, the Proton Synchrotron (PS), was built in the 1950s and was briefly the world's highest energy accelerator. The Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS), built in the 1970s, was the scene of CERN's first Nobel prize in the 1980s. The Large Electron-Positron collider (LEP) came on stream in 1989. It was the Laboratory's flagship research machine until 2000. LEP was an enormous machine. Built in a circular underground tunnel, it was 27 kilometres around and weighed over 23 000 tonnes.
The L3 detector, one of four detectors at LEP.
CERN is currently preparing to install a new accelerator inside the same tunnel as LEP. Called the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), this machine will start-up in 2006 giving the world's physicists a new tool to probe deeper than ever into the heart of matter. Each of CERN's accelerators plays host to a range of experiments run by collaborations of physicists from around the world. These physicists build particle detectors at their home institutes and bring them to CERN to record the results of particle collisions.
The LHC accelerator will be installed in the same tunnel as LEP and will provide four experiments with collisions. The experiments are called ATLAS, CMS, LHCb and ALICE.
CERN was founded in 1954 as one of Europe's first joint ventures. Since then it has become a shining example of international collaboration. From the original 12 signatories of the CERN convention membership has grown to 20 Member States. The Laboratory sits astride the Franco-Swiss border west of Geneva at the foot of the Jura mountains. Some 7000 scientists, over half the world's particle physicists, use CERN's facilities. They represent some 500 universities and over 80 nationalities.
The terrace of one of CERNs' cafeterias, a place for work as well as relaxation.
Particle Physics Education CD-ROM ©2001 CERN