“The visit has been cancelled.” For many of us working on CERN’s public engagement, that phrase has become emblematic of the past 15 months as thousands of visits to the Laboratory had to be cancelled or postponed. But, hopefully, we can now consign this phrase to the past.
On 1 June 2021, CERN restarted a number of activities for the public after having had the doors closed for visits and events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Openness, engagement and sharing of knowledge with the public are part of our CERN DNA, and it was difficult to have to disappoint the many people who had planned to visit us during the pandemic. We are therefore delighted to welcome our first visitors back on site, although the reopening is of course gradual – initially just the Microcosm exhibition, CERN Shop and events at the Globe – and highly dependent on the health situation, in line with CERN’s COVID-19 scale and measures.
I say “on site” because the pandemic did not prevent CERN from welcoming many visitors, virtually. Our disappointment at the many cancelled visits was transformed into a burst of creativity and innovation in the way that we engage with the public.
The Visitor and Events Operations and the Teacher and Student Programmes sections deployed a wide range of online activities, giving people locally and worldwide the chance to learn about CERN, its facilities and its research from their schools and their homes.
Since April 2020, no less than 450 virtual talks have been organised for over 12 000 visitors from 27 countries, for which 40 CERN guides were trained. In recent months, the Visitor and Events Operations section has also conducted virtual tours with guides on site, and has integrated virtual tours of ATLAS and ALICE in its platform, alongside a compilation of CERN’s most popular online resources for discovering the Laboratory.
Two online science shows – “It’s just a phase!” and “Superconductors take off!” – have been developed by the Teacher and Student Programmes section. In total, 50 shows have been held for over 2300 students aged from 6 to 19 in 15 different countries.
In September 2020, the final stage of the Beamline for Schools competition took place in a hybrid format, with one team on site at the DESY laboratory (Germany) and the other team running its experiments remotely from CERN. For the 2021 edition, two online events were organised for all the pre-registered teams, leading to record participation.
And from October 2020 to June 2021, some 1800 teachers from 40 different countries participated in 13 online teacher programmes, ranging from half-day events to six-week training courses. This represents an undeniable success that could well transform CERN’s Teacher Programmes in the long run.
The Protocol Service, with the support of colleagues across the Laboratory, also developed a virtual-visit concept that will provide new opportunities for engagement with decision-makers who wish to know more about CERN but may not be able to visit in person.
These are just a few examples of the many initiatives that saw the light of day during the pandemic. Together with the strong digital storytelling we put in place (engagement with CERN on social media increased by 107%, for example), they are helping CERN reach an ever-wider public. All initiatives were very positively received, encouraging us to continue innovating. They will not replace the on-site engagement, which will be expanded with the opening in 2023 of the CERN Science Gateway, but provide an important complement to our exhibitions and guided tours, many of which have also been upgraded during the pandemic.
We are thrilled to reopen CERN’s doors to our visitors – and to maintain the online engagement that is opening science up to many, many more.