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Colleagues from CERN, China, Pakistan, Russia and the US stand in front of the completed final 'slice' of the big wheel for the ATLAS end-cap detector

A unique experience

Hafeez Hoorani first came to CERN in 1989 to work on the LEP project. He is now professor of physics at the National Centre for Physics, Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, Pakistan, where he heads a group building the muon chamber for the CMS detector.

Hafeez Hoorani“I came to CERN in 1989 when there was much excitement as LEP was turned on. It was a very different experience for me than the previous years I had spent in North America, a very homogeneous region where everyone speaks English. CERN on the other hand is a multicultural and multinational organization. It is easy and simple to cooperate with Europe, which is very open and willing to accept people from different backgrounds and cultures. And this spirit of Europe, its acceptance, has come to CERN.

CERN is a unique experience, where many people contribute. It is rather like trying to cook dinner, where one person brings bread, the other butter, the third lentils, etc. At CERN, people also bring different things, they discuss and fight, but in the end they make a detector that works. This is very fascinating because I have never experienced it before. The final goal is purely intellectually oriented, basic physics — very beautiful.

My work here was scientifically very enriching, but culturally even more so. I have become a better human being as well as a better scientist. I can now appreciate different accents, different ways of living; I am more open to human beings than 15 years ago.

When I first came to CERN, I was mainly working on technical things but became increasingly involved in political issues. In 1999, I went back to Pakistan to set up a group working on different aspects of the LHC project. There I had to convince my people and my government to collaborate with CERN, which was rather difficult, since nobody associated science with Switzerland. It is known as a place for tourism, for its watches, and nice places to visit.

However, Pakistan already had an early connection to CERN through the late Abdus Salam, the sole Nobel laureate from Pakistan in science and one of the fathers of the electroweak theory. CERN has been known to the scientific community of Pakistan since 1973 through the discovery of neutral currents which eventually led to the Nobel Prize for Salam. We are contributing much more now because of the students who worked with Salam, who know his theories and CERN, and who are now placed at highly influential positions within the government of Pakistan. They have helped and pushed Pakistan towards a very meaningful scientific collaboration with CERN. People now know that there is an organization called CERN. It took a long time to explain what CERN is about, and I brought many people here to show them, because they did not imagine CERN this way. Many people support us now which gives us hope…”