Grigoris Panoutsopoulos (University of Athens & Vossius Fellow)
Conceptualizing the Large Hadron Collider as a ‘World Project’ in the Post-Cold War Era
The Large Hardon Collider (LHC) at CERN, is one of the most legendary scientific instruments ever constructed. At the same time, the history of the LHC has become a paradigm of the ways in which the world of High Energy Physics (HEP) is entangled with those of geopolitics, industry, finance and diplomacy. As the former CERN Director General and a key figure behind the establishment of the LHC, Chris Llewellyn Smith, put it: “Approval of a project the size of the Large Hadron Collider is an exercise in politics and high finance.” In order to grasp the full extent of the collider’s significance -of a much larger scope than that of a scientific machine -, I have attempted to place it within a wider historical context. Firstly, the LHC represented the future prospects of the entirety of the global HEP community, following the demise of the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) in USA. From this perspective, the construction of the LHC was almost intertwined with the continuation of the community into the 21st century, given the symbiotic relationship between the field and the constantly growing colliders. Even CERN’s very existence was on a shaky ground without the prospect of the LHC. Secondly, the LHC was one of the first scientific projects of the post-Cold War period, and would function as a prototype for worldwide collaborations and the transformed Big Science of the new era. Its accomplishment would also express new kinds of relationships between the financial institutions, industry and state bureaucracies. Thirdly, in the emergence of the post-1989 ‘new Europe’, LHC would play a crucial role in the European integration. The states, which withdrew from the Eastern Bloc, would be given the opportunity, through LHC, to participate in the construction of an astonishing scientific machine, based on cutting-edge technology. In this way, they could construct scientific, industrial and diplomatic networks and strengthen their relationship, both symbolically as well as substantially, with western Europe. CERN’s management did not simply read the political developments as events which would greatly facilitate the planning of an uninterrupted path for the final construction of the LHC, but it also understood that, through the LHC, it had the means of boosting the new role of Europe in the era of globalization while simultaneously becoming the rallying point of the HEP community all over the world. It was in this context that the LHC was transformed from a machine at CERN to a “world project”.
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