The universe is a strange, cold, and perhaps even scary place! However, there are bodies such as CERN who are trying to find all the answers we can about the wide and wonderful blackness around us. Specifically, much of the Swiss research faculty’s research surrounds particle physics, and why our universe operates in the way it does. It is perhaps most famous for its Large Hadron Collider, which once spread widespread media panic over claims it could potentially ‘cause black holes’! Thankfully, this hasn’t happened yet at the time of writing – knock on wood it won’t!
CERN is a really fascinating body, and their budget, too, is astronomical – but did you know that their epoch-making research was once scuppered by a rogue weasel? Did you know that you wouldn’t be sat reading this right now if it wasn’t for CERN? Time to tap into some fascinating facts about one of the world’s hardest-working research bodies.
‘CERN’ Is the acronym for the French ‘Conseil European pour la Recherché Nucleaire’. It was founded in 1952.
The primary function of CERN is to study ‘matter’, ’anti-matter’ and all things connected to interactions between molecules. It’s also concerned with nuclear physics, and how it can all benefit humanity for the better.
CERN uses state of the art equipment to research matter and in particular the collision of particles.
Large Hadron Collider
The ‘Large Hadron Collider’ is situated at CERN headquarters in Switzerland, just outside Geneva. It is the world’s largest particle accelerator built so far.
CERN Headquarters houses the Collider 100 metres below ground.
The Large Hadron Collider is intensely cold. It’s around -271 degrees Celsius and is said to be colder than outer space itself!
Fabiola Giannotti was 56 years old when she became Director General of CERN in 2016. She won the ‘Special Breakthrough Prize’ in Fundamental Physics.
An accomplished Experimental Particle Physics, Director Giannotti’s role at CERN is set for a term of 5 years.
Giannotti has confirmed that around ‘95% of the universe is still unknown’. CERN’s continuing mission, therefore, is one for knowledge – and answers to life’s biggest questions!
Large Hadron Collider
In 1954, 12 countries officially became ‘founding members’ of CERN. They were Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, The United Kingdom and Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia would leave, however, in 1961.
Several other countries became ‘Acceded Members’. In order of acceptance into CERN, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Finland, Poland, Hungary, The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Israel, Romania, and Serbia also joined.
In Dan Brown’s novel ‘Angels and Demons’ – later made into a Tom Hanks movie – anti-matter is stolen from CERN. Not an everyday occurrence, however!
CERN consumes a lot of money to run. It’s thought to cost around a billion euros each year – at least – to continue running research projects.
In 2010, a scientific breakthrough was achieved when scientists managed to capture anti-matter atoms for the first time.
In 1995, CERN confirmed that ‘anti-hydrogen atoms’ had emerged for the first time.
The Compact Muon Solenoid detector at the Large Hadron Collider
In 1984, the CERN laboratory of physicists was awarded its first Nobel Peace Prize.
CERN employs over 2,500 people.
Infamously, the Large Hadron Collider fell foul of a pesky pest in 2016. Specifically, the gigantic particle accelerator dropped power after a rogue weasel bit through wiring!
However, it’s not the first time that nature has interfered with science at CERN. A bird one caused a major outage in 2009. How? By dropping a rogue piece of baguette onto wiring!
CERN facilities are used by over 600 Universities and institutions all over the world.
In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee (joined by Robert Cailliau in 1990) started a CERN project that would change global communication for good. The project was named ‘Enquire’, though we know it better as the World Wide Web!
CERN announced to the world that the use of the World Wide Web would be free for everyone as of April 30th, 1993.
Carlo Rubbia and Simon Vander Meyer were each awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This was in recognition of their work for CERN, specifically aiding the discovery of the ‘W’ and ‘Z’ bosons.
A fundamental particle, the ‘W’ boson, when fused together with the ‘Z’ boson, becomes responsible for ‘weak force’. There are four basic forces that govern how ‘matter’ in our Universe performs.
Rubbia and Vander Meyer established through their research that as stars destruct and burn, their disintegrating matter can form heavier elements.
These elements can herald the beginning of another planet or form some of the fundamental matter to eventually create new life.
CERN scientists were accredited with discovering the elusive ‘Higgs boson’ particle.
‘Bosons’ are considered to be the particles which are responsible for all physical forces. The Higgs boson is named after Peter Higgs, who prophesised that such a particle existed in the 1960s but was yet to be discovered.
The Higgs boson particle is also sometimes referred to as the ‘God particle’. Leon Lederman, a leading physicist, quipped that the particle was ‘God damned hard to find!’.
Another reason the Higgs boson is nicknamed the ‘God Particle’ is from Higgs’ own explanation in 1964. He stated that it would be physical proof that the Big Bang occurred.
In 2013, a scientist at CERN was quoted by CBS as saying that spotting the Higgs boson would be extremely rare – and that trillions of particle collisions would have needed observing!
In June 2020, the Council of CERN, announced its vision for future research. This includes continuing studies using the Large Hadron Collider, as well as other particle accelerators.
CERN is said to be continuing deeper research into ‘dark matter’ as well as pursuing the complex study of ‘kaon’ activity.
Kaon research involves observing the decay of a positively charged particle, called a kaon, into another known as a pion. The event rarely occurs, with odds of one in ten billion!
Do you have any interesting or fun facts about CERN that we’ve missed? Share them here in the comments section below!