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Grigoris Panoutsopoulos joins the Vossius Center for one month in May 2022 as a Research Fellow with the project 'The Dynamics of CERN's Material Culture'.

About the project

The main goal of my research is to examine the history of modern physics within the context of Big Science, not just through the lens of theory as it is so often presented, but also through the materialities and the experimental practices involved. Thus, I investigate to what extent the material culture of CERN, and more specifically the colliders and the detectors, which are the vital instruments of the laboratory, have determined the research paths of High Energy Physics (HEP). More specifically, enormous experimental structures, such as the colliders LEP (Large Electron–Positron) and LHC (Large Hadron Collider), are projects that owing to complexity, costs and the difficulties involved in managing them, demand quite long design periods, and a particular negotiation strategy at both the sociopolitical as well as the scientific level for their realization. Hence, more often than not, these colliders are not mere instruments called upon to validate a theory, but, having an enormous social, political, diplomatic, geopolitical and financial dynamic, they largely define how an entire branch of the physical sciences is going to develop. In order to highlight the aforementioned aspects of the contemporary laboratory, I focus on three case studies: the abrupt shutdown of the LEP in 2000 despite indications that it was nearing the ‘Holy Grail’ discovery of the Higgs, the designing of the LHC as an exploratory machine and the planning of the Future Colliders at present. The study described above is based on an ongoing field research at CERN, which includes an extensive research into CERN's Archive (including specific, restricted access archives which have not been used historiographically in the past) and interviews with physicists who have played a major role in CERN’s history.

About the researcher

I am a Ph.D. student at the University of Athens, in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science. My dissertation thesis is titled “The Scientific laboratory from the 20th to the 21st Century: The Case of CERN", under the supervision of Professors T. Arabatzis and K. Gavroglu. I hold a B.Sc. in Physics and a M.Sc. in History and Philosophy of Science and Technology. Being especially interested in the social and cultural history of physics as well as in the HPS and the STS approaches, my research focuses on the history of CERN, postwar physics, Big Science and the relationship between theory and experiment. In 2018, I was awarded the Runner-up Prize in the History of Physics Essay Contest of the American Physical Society (APS). Since 2017 I co-organize, as a Teaching Assistant, the seminar “Big Science: The Physical Sciences after WWII”, in the HPS Department. Finally, I am a member of the research project “PYTHIA” (The Perils of Prediction in the Physical Sciences: Historical and Epistemological Perspectives).