Geneva, September 29, 1954. The ashes of humanity's deadliest conflict are still smoking. While the largest European capitals are in ruins, an iron curtain scars the old continent which saw the birth of science.
Berlin and London are unrecognizable, agriculture is bloodless, Western Europe is on a drip. It is in this context thatan Italian physicist, Edoardo Amaldi, and a French Nobel laureate, Louis de Broglie will make the craziest of proposals : bring together yesterday's enemy brothers around a common research project, in order to reconnect with the scientific excellence lost to the benefit of the USA and Russia, which took advantage of the colossal drain of our brains. This crazy project will take the form of the largest particle accelerator in the world, under the name of the European Council for Nuclear Research, or CERN.
And to think that in 1939 Frederic Joliot-Curie and his wife Irène, in their laboratory in Ivry, were on the verge of mastering uranium fission. They understood that slowing down neutrons was the key to enriching uranium and paving the way for industrial nuclear energy production. Frederick had secured the purchase from Norway of their total heavy water resources, the most efficient neutron retarder at the time, just before its invasion by Germany in 1940. But in the process, the Germans marched on Paris . Despite the general panic, Frédéric keeps a cool head and sends his entire team to safety in Canada after an epic journey, worthy of the greatest spy novels. It is this team, with its equipment that will develop the first Canadian nuclear reactor, while Frédéric Joliot-Curie enters the resistance in France.
In the meantime, the Manhattan Project has seen the light of day, Hiroshima and Nagasaki have seen night, the United States has become the masters of nuclear energy. France, occupied and humiliated, saw its research frozen and lost its leadership. In August 1949 the explosion of the first Russian atomic bomb took the USA by surprise and changed the situation. The Americans become aware of the possible brain drain from Europe to the USSR and then accept the idea of a common laboratory. France seemed to be the ideal place to settle it, but the communist connections of Joliot-Curie cooled the Americans. A compromise on Geneva, a neutral city, made its way, and on September 29, 1954, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, the Federal Republic of Germany, the The United Kingdom, Sweden, Switzerland and Yugoslavia, yesterday's enemy brothers, ratify the convention constituting CERN's birth certificate.
But what is a particle accelerator? It is a device which ... accelerates particles, to colossal energies corresponding to 14 million times the solar energy for the current version of CERN, by spinning protons faster and faster until they reach the speed of the light in rings of 27 kilometers, and causing their collision in 4 interaction points where detectors of 7000 tons, 3000 kilometers of cables, 45 meters high are placed in order to capture the new particles, produced during these collisions. Yes, I did say "news". Indeed, according to Einstein's formula E = mc2, it is possible to transform pure kinetic energy (E) into mass (m) and thus find the temperature conditions of the Universe some 0,000000000001 second after the Big Bang, thus recreating the zoo of particles that existed at the time and have since disintegrated. It is the holy grail of the alchemist.
Since then, at CERN, hundreds of new particles have been created, including the famous Higgs boson, generator of mass, as well as the W and Z bosons unifying weak nuclear and electromagnetic forces (each giving rise to Nobel prizes in physics). This is how the greatest concentration of energy ever created by man was achieved, at the coldest temperature, with the greatest magnetic fields. In short, CERN is a breeding ground for records. Note that it was also at CERN that the World Wide Web (www.) Protocol was originally developed for transmitting data between laboratories. From now on, we are looking for the additional dimensions of space-time, so-called supersymmetric particles predicted by the theory that unifies the infinitely large and the infinitely small, and why not recreate from scratch dark matter, this mysterious particle that makes up 85% of our Universe.
CERN can be visited, and I promise you a real emotion in front of this jewel of technology which allowed the old continent, at the end of a war as murderous as absurd, to raise its head, and to become the world center of the physics of the high energies, attracting to Geneva world specialists in the field who all dream of being part of this incredible European adventure.
This article is published from Selection of the day.