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CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, is one of the world's most prestigious research centers. Its business is fundamental physics - finding out what makes our universe work, where it came from and where it is going. Around 7500 people from 80 nationalities pass through CERN's gates each day to use some of the world's biggest and most complex machines to study nature's tiniest building blocks. By colliding these minute particles of matter physicists unravel the basic laws of nature. This research is purely scientific and the results are freely available.
The laboratory's accelerator complex is built around three principle interdependent accelerators. The oldest, the Proton Synchrotron (PS) was built in the 1950s and was briefly the worlds highest energy accelerator. The Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS), built in the 1970s was the scene of CERN's first Nobel Prize in the 1980s. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), currently under construction, will be the laboratory's flagship from 2007. It assumes the mantle recently vacated by an earlier accelerator, the Large Electron Positron collider (LEP), which started up in 1989 and was the laboratory's frontier research tool until 2000. LEP was built in a 27 kilometer underground tunnel in which beams electrons and their antimatter counterparts, positrons, swirled around in opposite directions, practically at the speed of light. At four points around the accelerator huge detectors studied electron-positron collisions that recreated the conditions that existed just after the Big Bang.
The LHC is being installed in the same tunnel as LEP. When it starts up in 2007, it will give the world's physicists a new tool to probe deeper than ever before into the heart of matter. Each of CERN's accelerators hosts a range of experiments run by collaborations of physicists from around the world. Some 7000 scientists, over half the world's particle physicists use CERN's facilities. They represent some 500 universities and over 80 nationalities. The laboratory sits astride the Franco-Swiss border west of Geneva at the foot of the Jura mountains. It was founded in 1954 as one of Europe's first joint ventures. Since then it has become a shining example of international collaboration. From the original 12 signatories of the CERN convention, membership has grown to 20 member states (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, The Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom).
Fundamental research is CERN's reason for being but the laboratory also plays a vital role in developing technologies for tomorrow. From material science to computing, particle physics demands the ultimate in performance, making CERN an important test bed for industry. Today everyone knows the World Wide Web but not many know it was invented at CERN, conceived to give particle physicists easy access to their data wherever they happen to be on the planet. The World Wide Web, medical imaging, and advanced techniques for using electron chips, these are just a few of the many recent spin-offs from the fundamental research done at CERN.
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