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CERN History: Discoveries and Experiments

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Formed September 29th, 1954, CERN, or the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is an international organization that has fundamental physics as its main business. One of CERN's past major developments was the World Wide Web in the 1990s. Its most recent work has concentrated around the Large Hadron Collider. In 2012, scientists believe the accelerator has found the Higgs Boson, or "God Particle," which it hopes will help answer basic questions about our universe. In this video, we take a look at the history of CERN.

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This organization may one day unlock the secrets to our existence. Welcome to, and today we’re taking a look at the history of CERN.


The European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, is an international organization that was formed September 29th, 1954. The CERN acronym originally stood for the short-term council known as the Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire,which developed the CERN laboratory.

Fundamental Physics

The organization is made up of twenty European member states, with the CERN Council as its highest authority. Because CERN’s main business is fundamental physics, the financial contributions made to its programs by member states support research in this field.


The CERN Laboratory is the largest of its kind and is located near Geneva on the Franco-Swiss border. Its initial studies focused on the atomic nucleus, but shifted to higher-energy physics and particle interactions. The facility constructs experiments through the use of particle accelerators and detectors.

Particle Physics and Atoms

CERN experiments have resulted in a number of significant accomplishments in particle physics. For example, anti-hydrogen atoms were first created at CERN in 1995, and scientists hope that continued study on these atoms will determine why the cosmos are filled with more matter than antimatter.

World Wide Web

Another major development that began as a CERN project is the World Wide Web. In 1990, computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, along with Robert Cailliau, proposed the creation of a hypertext system to assist in worldwide information-sharing. By defining the Web’s primary concepts and writing the first browser and web software, Berners-Lee forever changed the way we interact with one another.

Large Hadron Collider

Though CERN controls a number of accelerators, most of its recent activities concentrate on the Large Hadron Collider. The collider was built with the cooperation of thousands of scientists, engineers, universities and laboratories from over one hundred countries, and is the biggest and highest-energy particle accelerator in the world. The LHC sits in an underground tunnel that is over five hundred and seventy feet deep and seventeen miles in circumference, and that size has posed a number of challenges for engineers.


Because the LHC was devised to study the smallest known particles by colliding opposing particle beams at high energy, early experiments raised several fears. The most prominent was the possibility that minuscule black holes could be created and this would lead to the planet’s destruction.

Higgs Boson

Through its experiments with this synchrotron, CERN attempts to discover the Higgs Boson by re-creating the conditions that followed the Big Bang. The hope is that this “God particle” may provide answers to some of the universe’s basic questions, especially relating to matter and antimatter. In 2012, scientists from the ATLAS and CMS detector experiments announced that a sub-atomic particle consistent with the Higgs boson had been found.

Quark-Gluon Plasma

That same year, the LHC's ALICE experiment created a quark-gluon plasma believed to resemble circumstances that immediately came after the Big Bang. That plasma broke the record for the highest temperature ever created by humankind when it reached what was estimated to be over five trillion degrees Celsius.


Though CERN’s bigger accelerators are located underground, many of its smaller accelerators are located above ground on the main site in Meyrin, Switzerland. This is also the location of an immense computer center that processes experimental data. However, a few of the experimental sites are found in France, since the site spans the border between those two countries.

Public Exhibits

While CERN’s facilities are used by scientists from around the globe, a number of exhibits and institutions are open to the public. Notable ones include The Globe of Science and Innovation, and the Microcosm museum of particle physics.

Pop Culture

Because of the breadth and scope of its innovations, CERN has been referenced in literature and pop culture. For instance, LHC-created antimatter is described in the Dan Brown book “Angels & Demons,” which was later adapted into a number-one film, while visiting the LHC has been mentioned on the popular sitcom, “The Big Bang Theory.”

The Universe and Our Existence

Whether it is in medicine, information technology or another field, CERN’s research in fundamental science has led to many developments that have practical applications in today’s world. There is no doubt this group will continue to unravel the mysteries of the universe.

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