What does it take to create the smallest pieces you can find on this earth? Either you can jump in your self-made time machine and travel to the birth of our universe or, for the pocket money of 6.4 billion Euro, you can purchase 27 kilometers of tunnel underneath the Jura mountains in Switzerland and France, buy 9593 magnets, 1232 dipoles and 392 quadropels (1). Now you only have to find a smart brain and you will get yourself a private science lab, similar to the CERN in Geneve, right?
Wrong! It was not the billions of tax money or the finesse of one Harvard student, which makes the ‘world’s most ambitious scientific experiment’ a successful story (2). It is the fact that more than ten thousand qualified researchers from all over the world have collaborated in the experiments conducted at that giant laboratory (3), most of them physicist and engineers. Solely the largest experiment, ALICE, involves a scientific community, which, in my opinion, could refer to itself as the world’s smartest melting pot. 1200 researchers from 131 different institutes out of 36 countries make it possible to crash two tiny little substances with immense speed into each other, just to make them break apart further and to tell the physicists something about the history and future of the world (4).
You might think this squadron of superbrains is more difficult to manage than the France national football team at the world cup 2010, but in fact the program is sometimes referred to as the ‘Wikipedia of science experiments’. There is no almighty manager. The extremely flat hierarchy exists only to coordinate the work. If for a specific problem there is no solution at hand, which apparently happens quite often, the case is made open to all participants and any involved institution can sign up to be the perspective provider by building a custom-made solution for this little part of the project (5). I even remember an article in a weekly magazine from years ago in which the author described a team of PhD students, which solved a major problem of the detectors by using boringly ordinary matchboxes.
This extensive collaboration is the reason why publications by CERN can be very exhausting for the interested reader’s index finger. It is not unusual that, before the actual article begins, a list of an astonishing 2000 authors needs to be scrolled over (6). No wonder, that the Nobel Prize committee has not really bothered to give out the prize to a finding coming out of CERN. The price of the gold for the 2000 medals only would cost the committee more than 10 million Euro (7). So apparently there is only room for glory among peers and not much chance of fame and money for these physicists.
All of the above leads me to the conclusion, which also partly answers my initial question, that the name CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire) is outdated and should be changed into CIRN, standing for Collective Intelligence Research on Nuclear science (1).
- http://cds.cern.ch/record/1165534/files/CERN-Brochure-2009-003-Eng.pdf (2)
- http://www.theguardian.com/science/cern (3)
- http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7595855.stm (4)
- http://aliweb.cern.ch/General/index.html (5)
- http://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/mensch/superbeschleuniger-lhc-teamwork-ermoeglicht-das-mega-experiment-a-577243.html (6)
- http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-0221/3/08/S08003 (7)