I. I. Rabi and the Birth of CERN

CERN was created in part to help restore a great European scientific tradition.  But the establishment of a European laboratory also advanced US scientific and foreign policy aims.
Flags of 20 member nations fly outside CERN headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Bulgaria, the newest member state, joined the international laboratory in 1999.
IIRabi-Birth-CERN-PT-Sep04a.jpg
by John Krige : Kranzberg Professor in the School of History, Technology, and Society at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.  ///  Physics Today  ///   September 2004 Volume 57, Number 9

The Villa de Cointrin at the Geneva Airport (whose control tower is visible at right in the background) was CERN's original headquarters.
IIRabi-Birth-CERN-PT-Sep04b.jpg


     Fifty years ago, in September 1954, CERN officially came into being. The European Organization for Nuclear Research, as it was then called, welcomed Felix Bloch back to Europe as its first director general. The Stanford University physicist, a Nobel Prize winner with dual Swiss and American citizenship, personified what CERN's founders hoped the laboratory would achieve. They hoped it would play a fundamental role in rebuilding European physics to its former grandeur, reverse the brain drain of the brightest and best to the US, and continue and consolidate postwar European integration.


     Today, CERN has more than fulfilled the goals of its founders.  It is one of the outstanding high−energy physics laboratories in the world.  Home to thousands of European physicists and engineers, the lab is an essential resource for thousands of others the world over who build and run experiments there.  And it is a model of European integration.  From its original 12 member states, CERN has now grown to 20, including a number of countries (Bulgaria, Hungary, the Czech and Slovak republics, and Poland) of the new Europe.

     Although US scientists make intensive use of CERN, their country is not among its member states.  That is not to say that the US administration was uninterested in CERN; on the contrary, it played a major role at a key turning point in the lab's history.  The vector for that initiative was Isidor I. Rabi, Columbia University physicist, Nobel laureate, and scientific statesman.  Indeed, the leading European physicists associated with the project, including Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, deemed Rabi's role to be so important that they bestowed paternity of the laboratory on their American colleague.    . . .