Pros and Cons of building particle accelerators – Werner Heisenberg

The world is looking at CERN, Geneva, Switzerland. Physicists working at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will make an announcement about the Higgs boson, Wednesday July 4th. Speculations and rumors already run around the world. In such hectic times it often is helpful to take a look back. Therefore I recommend to watch a famous and almost political lecture by Werner Heisenberg from 1971.

Werner Heisenberg, Lindau 1971

“Physical and political considerations in the construction of large particle accelerators”

Werner Heisenberg, Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, 1971 (German Original Version)

In this lecture during the 21st Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, the Nobel Laureate in Physics from 1932, Werner Heisenberg, reflects the pros and cons of building new AND very powerful AND very expensive particle accelerators. CERN has been founded 1954 and several particle accelerators at this time had been built already. Just some months before the Lindau Meeting in 1971 several European states decided to build a further particle accelerator – later known as the Super Proton Synchroton (SPS), worth 1,150 million Swiss francs at the time.

The discussions until it came to this cooperation and decision lasted more than three years. “There have been disagreements and public debates about the urgency, the funding and the future location of the project”, Heisenberg said in this historical document (Lindau Mediatheque). Although the decisions already had been made Heisenberg wanted to reflect about certain topics of the discussion. He was aware that such arguments will be discussed again and again if new major projects are planned.

Questions about Science and Society and the need for international cooperations: Is the money spent for such projects worth it? Shouldn’t it be better used to finance several research institutes and universities instead? Or should it be used for environmental protection?…

Heisenberg’s position as it is written in the comment to the video in the Mediatheque is patently obvious: it would probably be worth having these accelerators out of scientific curiosity alone!

Today CERN is run by 20 European member states and via cooperations scientists from 85 countries work there. ONE of their findings might be the Higgs. But there have been and will be plenty more.

Beatrice Lugger

About Beatrice Lugger

Beatrice Lugger is a science journalist and science social media specialist with a background as a chemist. She is Scientific Director of the National Institute for Science Communication, NaWik – @BLugger is her twitter handle, Quantensprung her own blog.

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