On this day in 1954, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, better known as CERN, came into being. At the end of World War II, the United Nations began to investigate the possibility of a joint research laboratory, with the goal of understanding the inner workings of the atom. European scientists hoped CERN would help put them back on the map, after the delays of war. Nuclear research came with a high price, and a collaborative center promised to benefit multiple nations. The convention establishing CERN was signed by Sweden, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Denmark, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the U.K., and Yugoslavia. Officials looked on as workers broke ground near Geneva, where CERN still operates today.
CERN’s fundamental goal was to better understand natural law using particle accelerators, which smash particles together at close to the speed of light. CERN’s first accelerator was built in 1957. In the decades that followed, scientists who worked with CERN made progress in understanding antimatter, biology, nuclear medicine, and radiation. These days, CERN still uses particle accelerators to investigate the origins and materials of the universe.
In 1990, the first World Wide Web server was launched from CERN’s lab. In 1993, CERN made the technology available for free, ushering the Internet into public life.
CERN’s advancements have not always been received with open arms. CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, the largest machine in existence, began to operate in 2008 amid plenty of controversy. The LHC represented the most important experiment in particle physics to date, and CERN employed half of all the world’s particle physicists. But CERN faced a legal battle waged by those worried that the machine could create a black hole capable of devouring the Earth. While still controversial, LHC remains in operation, and the Earth has yet to vanish.