Founded in 1954, the CERN laboratory sits astride the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva. It was one of Europe's first joint ventures and now has 20 member states.
Researchers at CERN are using some of the world’s biggest and most complex scientific instruments to study the basic constituents of matter, called fundamental particles. By colliding particles together at almost the speed of light, physicists can see how particles interact, which can provide insights into the laws of nature.
CERN is home to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. The 27 km ring of superconducting magnets accelerates two beams of particles to almost the speed of light, with a record energy of 4 TeV per beam.
On 4 July 2012 two of the experiments on the LHC, ATLAS and CMS, announced that they had detected a Higgs like Boson. Further announcements since have confirmed that it is the boson physicists have been looking for since it was predicted 50 years ago. This is one of the greatest discoveries of our time made possible by the unique conditions of the LHC.
However, there is more to CERN than just the LHC. The LHC is the last link in a series of particle accelerators that progressively increase the energy of particle beams. The other machines in the complex have their own experimental halls, where beams are used for experiments requiring lower energies.
For example, the ALPHA experiment, located on the Antiproton Decelerator (AD) storage ring at CERN, which has succeeded in trapping antimatter atoms for over 16 minutes: long enough to begin to study their properties in detail.
Paul Collier, head of beams at the LHC, in the LHC tunnel
The STFC coordinates and manages the UK’s involvement and subscription with CERN. The UK’s influence on both CERN Council and CERN Finance Committee is coordinated through the UK Committee on CERN (UKCC).
UK membership of CERN gives our physicists and engineers access to the experiments and allows UK industry to bid for contracts, UK nationals to compete for jobs and research positions at CERN, and UK schools and teachers to visit. UK scientists hold many key roles at CERN. Firms in the UK win contracts worth millions of pounds each year. The impact of winning contracts is often even greater as it enables companies to win business elsewhere.
What happens at CERN?
CERN is probably best known as the home of the World Wide Web which has led to cloud computing and the Grid , but in medicine PET and MRI scanners have their origins in particle physics. This is continuing as new medical breakthroughs such as retinal implants can trace their origins back to the sensitive detectors used in the LHC’s ATLAS detector. CERN has a long track record of providing tangible benefits from the cutting edge technology that it uses from the development of the first capacitive touch screens providing accurate measurements to calibrate the first GPS systems through to the more recent application of vacuum technology to solar panels.
The first web server used by Tim Berners-Lee in 1990
Follow the link to find out more about CERN Employment and Training Opportunities.
Training is an important part of CERN’s mission and another aspect of membership is the access that it gives the UK to CERN’s fellowship, student and teacher programmes. CERN works with UK universities and has an active education programme . The introduction of the Citizen Cyberscience Centre, a virtual superconductor, extends this to researchers in developing countries.
Benefits of CERN to the UK
- UK Industry won more than £27 million worth of contracts from CERN during the construction of the LHC
- UK Industry continues to win, on average, around £15m every year in contracts from CERN. In 2009 the UK IT company Viglen won a £1.8m contract to provide part of the required processing power needed to analyse data from the LHC
- More than 20 research groups across the UK helped prepare for the LHC. A number of spin-off technologies have come from scientists' work in preparing for the LHC and many new applications are anticipated - hardly surprising since the last major experiment at CERN resulted in the creation of the World Wide Web.
Find out more about the UK’s involvement at CERN by subscribing to the biweekly UK News from CERN newsletter.