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Pioneering particle physics CERN turns 60

Sixty years ago, scientists began to explore the secrets of the universe at the largest particle physics laboratory in the world: CERN in Geneva. (SRF/wisinfo.ch)

The business of CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is fundamental physics: what is the universe made of and how does it work?

Following the Second World War, a group of scientists and public administrators on both sides of the Atlantic decided to set up a research centre as a way of fostering peace and unity. The founding convention for CERN was signed by 12 states, including Switzerland.

Increasingly powerful accelerators at CERN have allowed researchers to explore new frontiers of energy. Some of this research work has dramatically improved our understanding of the laws of nature.

One example is the discovery by Carlo Rubbia and Simon van der Meer of the particle carriers of the weak force. This is one of the four fundamental forcesexternal link in the universeexternal link and causes beta decayexternal link, a form of radioactivityexternal link. The two scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1984.

Another groundbreaking CERN invention was the World Wide Web, developed in 1989 by British scientist Tim Berners-Lee.

In 1992, Georges Charpak won the Nobel Prize for developing a revolutionary particle detector.

Another Nobel Prize went to Peter Higgs and François Englert in 2013, for their theoretical discovery of the Higgs boson. This is the smallest particle of the Higgs field. Unlike the electromagnetic fieldexternal link, the Higgs field cannot be "turned off", but instead takes a constant value almost everywhere. The Higgs boson is also known as the "God Particle” as it’s thought it could be responsible for all the mass in the universe.

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