Physicists and engineers at CERN use the world's largest and most complex scientific instruments to study the basic constituents of matter – fundamental particles. Subatomic particles are made to collide together at close to the speed of light. The process gives us clues about how the particles interact, and provides insights into the fundamental laws of nature. We want to advance the boundaries of human knowledge by delving into the smallest building blocks of our universe.
The instruments used at CERN are purpose-built particle accelerators and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before the beams are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions.
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 23 member states.
What does “CERN” stand for?
At an intergovernmental meeting of UNESCO in Paris in December 1951, the first resolution concerning the establishment of a European Council for Nuclear Research (in French Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire) was adopted.
Two months later, an agreement was signed establishing the provisional Council – the acronym CERN was born.
Today, our understanding of matter goes much deeper than the nucleus, and CERN's main area of research is particle physics. Because of this, the laboratory operated by CERN is often referred to as the European Laboratory for Particle Physics.
What is the LHC?
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. It first started up on 10 September 2008, and remains the latest addition to CERN’s accelerator complex. The LHC consists of a 27-kilometre ring of superconducting magnets with a number of accelerating structures to boost the energy of the particles along the way.
The beams inside the LHC are made to collide at four locations around the accelerator ring, corresponding to the positions of four particle detectors – ATLAS, CMS, ALICE and LHCb.
HOW DO WE HELP SOCIETY?
Behind these three pillars of technology, lies a great number of areas of expertise: from cryogenics to ultra-high vacuums, from particle tracking and radiation monitoring to superconductivity and many more.
These technologies and the human expertise associated with them are translated into positive impacts on society in many different fields.