A meeting with Greek CERN scientists in Switzerland

TheTOC.gr entered CERN, the scientific village of 3,000 people on the Switzerland – France border, west of Geneva, and talked to the Greek scientists of the project.


CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire – European Organization for Nuclear Research) looks frozen, immobile, white and silent by train. Once you pass through the door and the strict security measures, the reality in front of you is much more lively and warm. Roads with physicists’ names guide me to the main building.

Physicist Panos Haritos guides me through labyrinthine corridors with hundreds of small offices. Our first stop is legendary physicist John Ellis’ office. There’s a frame made of cardboard and the slogan “Ellis rocks” on the board. It appears physicists have a sense of humor, unlike what most people think. We make a stop in the library: new editions, readers concentrated on books, a modern library, filled with valuable, excellent books.

If the Higgs bozon discovery is the holy grail of scientific discoveries in recent years, CERN is the holy grail of scientific research. A visitor understands that they walk into a room they will rarely have the opportunity to visit in their lifetime – the heart of scientific scholarship.

Merely a few steps into CERN are enough to make a visitor understand that describing it is the easiest part: a scientific “village” of 3,000 people on the Switzerland – France border, west of Geneva. What is more difficult to describe is the range of scientific activities, the experiments, the planning, the tireless efforts of understanding the technological applications and broader science of the LHC in daily life.

“Consider a country after the civil war, tired and poor, entering the largest European scientific experiment”. These are the first words coming out of the mouth of Dr. Manolis Tsesmelis, as soon as I meet him. “It is incredible that Greece was one of the 12 founding members of CERN from the 1950’s.” Equally unlikely today is the danger of our country abandoning CERN because of its economic problems and the crisis, which affects every scientific endeavour.

The Greek-Australian scientist considers Greece his homeland. Senior Physicist, Being the Deputy Head of International Relations at CERN and Visiting Professor on Particle accelerator physics at Oxford University, Tsesmelis is fighting not only for science, but also to ensure the best possible result from the Greece’s participation in the organisation. Greece leaving CERN is the worst case scenario, he says.

“The financial hardships of our times should not stop us – they should be a starting point and an opportunity to develop new partnerships with Greek universities, research centers and the Greek industry. Greece should not stop proving its full potential. It should build on the opportunities offered by its participation. Innovation and training will be the key for future growth and development in the country.”

CERN is pioneering in the human search for knowledge, a search that has its roots deep in the start of civilization. Its establishment in 1954, (exactly 62 years ago), was one of the first joint European efforts and is a shining example of international cooperation. Starting out with 12 founding members, including Greece, the number of member-states now stands at 21, and with the new applicant countries, this number will increase significantly in the coming years. Dozens of other states are cooperating as non-members.

CERN’s main mission, Tsesmelis says, is to promote knowledge about the world around us, the development of new technologies for accelerators and detectors and the subsequent transfer of knowledge, know-how and technology in society. “For these reasons it is important for Greeks to participate as members in a community that brings together people from different countries and cultures through science.”

At CERN scientists are representing more than 800 universities and institutes and about 100 nationalities. CERN personnel are at about 3000, of which particle physicists are a minority. The majority of them are scientists specialized in applied sciences, engineers and technicians. CERN’s facilities, however, are used by more than 10,500 scientists, a large part of the global scientific community’s natural elementary particles physicists. There are 30 permanent Greek CERN employees and more than 180 scientific collaborators from universities and institutes using CERN facilities for their experiments.

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