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From left to right: J. Steinberger, F. Bloch, S. Ting, G. Charpak, C. Rubbia, S. van der Meer

Nobel prizes

One dream of CERN’s founders, to achieve European eminence in ‘big’ science, was realised in 1984, when Carlo Rubbia and Simon Van der Meer received the Nobel Prize in physics for “their decisive contributions to the large project which led to the discovery of the field particles W and Z, communicators of the weak interaction.” The project was a magnificently executed scheme to collide protons and antiprotons in the existing Super Proton Synchrotron. The experimental results confirmed the unification of weak and electromagnetic forces, the electroweak theory of the Standard Model.

Less than a decade later, Georges Charpak, a CERN physicist since 1959, received the 1992 physics Nobel for “his invention and development of particle detectors, in particular the multiwire proportional chamber, a breakthrough in the technique for exploring the innermost parts of matter.” Charpak’s multiwire proportional chamber, invented in 1968, and his subsequent developments launched the era of fully electronic particle detection. Charpak’s detectors are also used for biological research and could eventually replace photographic recording in applied radio-biology. The increased recording speeds translate into faster scanning and lower body doses in medical diagnostic tools based on radiation or particle beams.

The Laboratory not only attracts Nobel Prizes but also Nobel Laureates. Indeed the first Director-General, Felix Bloch, was awarded the 1952 Nobel prize with Edward Mills Purcell, “for their development of new methods for nuclear magnetic precision measurements and discoveries in connection therewith.”

The 1976 physics Prize was awarded to the Large Electron–Positron Collider (LEP) experiment L3 spokesman Sam Ting, with Burt Richter, “for their pioneering work in the discovery of a heavy elementary particle of a new kind.” Discovered in 1974, the particle called J/ψ is a charm quark-antiquark composite.

In 1988, Jack Steinberger, a CERN physicist since the late 1960s and head of the LEP ALEPH experiment at the time, was awarded the physics Prize with Leon Lederman and Mel Schwartz, “for the neutrino beam method and the demonstration of the doublet structure of the leptons through the discovery of the muon neutrino.” The discovery, made in 1962 at the US Brookhaven National Laboratory, showed that there was more than one type of neutrino.