Another vintage year

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ATLAS event display of a H -> 4e candidate event (Image: ATLAS/CERN)

Some years it’s hard to know where to begin with my end of year message, but 2012 is different. This is the year that will go down in history as marking the first of the LHC’s major discoveries, a defining moment in the history of science.

Although we don’t yet know the full details of the particle whose discovery we announced on 4 July, in front of a global audience estimated at over a billion, it is looking more and more like the Higgs boson first proposed in 1964. If that turns out to be the case, and we should know sometime over the next 12 months as ATLAS and CMS complete their analyses, then the Standard Model of particle physics will be complete. That would be a momentous achievement, and testimony to the generation-spanning talent, dedication and patience of thousands of scientists and engineers from around the world.

The other possibility is that the new particle is not a Standard Model Higgs, but that it completes the Standard Model and takes us further. This would be incredibly exciting, opening up new avenues for exploration of the universe beyond the Standard Model. Either way, in 2012, CERN contributed a major advance to our understanding of the universe we live in.

Particle physics is perhaps unique in its way of working. I can think of no other area of human endeavour that harnesses human potential to the same extent, and this is something that others are beginning to notice. At the start of each year, I make the trip to Davos for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting. For the last few years, science has been in the margins – more entertainment than business. In 2013, science is where it should be: on the main agenda. In a similar vein, CERN has been made an Observer at the UN General Assembly. Developments like this give science the voice it needs in today’s society.

Next year, we move into a different mode of operation as the LHC enters its first long shutdown, LS1, and we take the opportunity to give the whole accelerator chain a much-needed overhaul. Although the LHC will not be running after February 2013, CERN certainly will. As well as maintaining and preparing their detectors for the LHC restart in 2015, there are 27 petabytes of data on tape to keep the experiments busy. For the rest of us, LS1 brings its own challenges, and I will tell you more about that in my January presentation to personnel, when I hope to see many of you.

Unique though 2012 has undoubtedly been, one thing doesn’t change with time and that is my gratitude to the entire CERN community for the incredible achievements of each passing year, and my sense of wonder and pride at belonging to a community such as ours. In 2012, our efforts were rewarded in many ways, with prizes being received for all kinds of CERN activity from science and technology to communication and outreach. Although prizes go to individuals, they belong to everyone. The kind of successes they celebrate are only possible thanks to the active engagement and commitment of the whole community. Every department, every group, every individual contributes and I’d like to thank you all for it.

As usual, a short message is never enough to do justice to the achievements of a year and to look ahead to what’s to come. For that, I’d like to invite you all to my New Year’s presentation on Wednesday 9 January 2013, at 10am, in the Main Auditorium. In the meantime, I wish you and your loved ones a very well merited, peaceful and enjoyable end of year break.