World’s largest particle physics lab suspends political ties with Russia | Science

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the politicians who control Europe’s particle physics laboratory, CERN, are trying to strike a delicate balance. In a special session, the CERN Council, made up of representatives of the laboratory’s 23 member countries, voted to suspend the “observer” privileges of the Russian Federation, CERN announced today. The council’s 2-page resolution temporarily bars Russian political representatives from auditing the council’s public deliberations or participating in certain closed-door negotiations, and prohibits the establishment of new collaborations with Russia.

However, the council did not expel Russian universities and institutes involved in ongoing experiments at CERN, home to the world’s largest atom breaker, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Russians represent more than 1,000 of the 12,000 scientists from 95 countries who collaborate in one way or another at CERN. The council appears to have tried to punish the Russian government while continuing to support Russian physicists, some of whom have worked at CERN for decades.

Some CERN scientists wanted to go further. More than 275 Polish physicists at CERN signed a petition calling for an end to “any institutional collaboration” between CERN and Russian or Belarusian institutions”.

But others think the board got it right. “I am very happy because [the resolution] is what CERN stands for,” says Christoph Rembser, experimental physicist at CERN. “We will continue to uphold its core values ​​of cross-border scientific collaboration and as an engine of peace.” Since its creation in 1954, CERN has served as a bridge between Russia and the West, even in the darkest days of the Cold War. Its motto is “science in the service of peace”.

John Ellis, a King’s College London theorist who works at CERN and has been on its staff for more than 40 years, is also pleased that scientific collaborations can continue. “For me, this is extremely important because some member states have adopted policies, which certainly seemed to want to stop any collaboration with Russian scientists,” says Ellis. For example, he says, Germany has decided to end scientific ties with Russia.

The board’s decision still risks causing pain for physicists in the lab. Russia was granted observer status with special benefits in 1993 in exchange for helping to build certain components, Ellis said. And he had pledged 34 million Swiss francs ($36.5 million) in parts and equipment for an upgrade, starting in 2025, that will dramatically increase the intensity of the LHC’s beams. “If it’s not on the table anymore, it’s potentially a problem for the upgrade,” Ellis says. However, the Russian contribution represents only a small part of the total cost of the upgrade, 950 million Swiss francs.

Ellis and Rembser applaud the council’s decision on the grounds that it could help protect Russian physicists who have spoken out against the war and who could be in danger if they were to return to Russia. Rembser, co-head of a committee to help Ukrainian physicists, says he is already thinking about finding ways to allow Russian colleagues to stay in Switzerland.

In its resolution, the CERN Council also indicated that it would encourage initiatives to support the laboratory’s forty Ukrainian collaborators. And he said he would continue to monitor the situation in Ukraine. “[T]e Council stands ready to take any other appropriate action,” the resolution reads. The council meets again from March 21.

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