Historical images

What happened this month Image Title Description Posted
This month 47 years ago… May 1971 – Inauguration of Gargamelle

CERN’s Gargamelle bubble chamber was 4.8 metres long by 2 metres in diameter, weighed 1,000 tonnes, and held nearly 12 cubic metres of heavy-liquid Freon. It was inaugurated on 7 May 1971 with a day of speeches, visits and lunch for the journalists and other guests. This short film, made a few months earlier, describes the design, construction and operation of the giantess. 

Early results from Gargamelle provided crucial evidence for the existence of quarks, and in July 1973 the Gargamelle collaboration presented the first direct evidence of the weak neutral current. The pictures that made the tracks of particles visible as trails of bubbles, yielding these scientific results, are also extremely beautiful. The one shown dates from 1978; you can see more, and some of their interpretive sketches, here.

16 May, 2018
This month 90 years ago… April 1928 – Pauli in Zurich: contradict me!

Wolfgang Pauli took up his duties as professor in Zurich at the end of April 1928. Before accepting the post he had insisted on the appointment of an assistant, and wrote to Ralph Kronig on 22 November, ‘I would like to ask you, for the moment quite tentatively, if in principle you would agree to accept this position … your task would be:

  1. Every time I say something, to contradict me with detailed arguments.
  2. To animate somewhat the scientific activity with modern ideas.

Looking back (this photo dates from 1955), Kronig considered his time in Zurich, ‘not only as one of the most instructive, but also as one of the most exhilarating periods’ of his life. He added, ‘One of my tasks, not agreed upon beforehand, was to watch out that Pauli should limit his consumption of ice cream at Sprüngli’s Konditorei at the Paradeplatz where we often went in the afternoon.'

11 April, 2018
This month 60 years ago… March 1958 - I can paint like Titian

Pauli thought Heisenberg’s ‘World Formula’ needed a lot more work, and he made his point graphically. He sent this drawing of an empty picture frame to George Gamow on 1 March 1958 with the caption, ‘This is to show the world that I can paint like Titian … Only technical details are missing.’

Pauli and Heisenberg had collaborated for many years, but Pauli was unconvinced by the results of their search for a unified theory of elementary particles, and felt the publicity about it was premature.  He died in December of the same year. The letter is online here.

28 March, 2018
This month 94 years ago… February 1924 – Pauli’s inaugural lecture

Wolfgang Pauli received his habilitation from the University of Hamburg in 1924  – the same year he discovered his Nobel-Prize-winning exclusion principle – and delivered his inaugural lecture on 23 February. He was awarded the title of professor in 1926, then obtained a professorship in theoretical physics at the ETH, Zürich, in 1928. His tendency to forget about the audience, and think out problems as he went along, proved challenging for some students. But, as Markus Fierz pointed, they at least learned to think critically about a theory!

26 February, 2018
This month 101 years ago… December 1906 – Young Wolfgang Pauli

Future Nobel laureate Wolfgang Pauli was a little over six-and-a-half years old when this photo was taken in December 1906. His biographer Charles Enz notes that that young Wolfi contracted all the usual childhood diseases and, to use the typically Viennese expression, es war ihm immer fad – he always felt bored.

By the age of four he was already adept in the art of contradicting his elders that would later help him to reshape modern physics. On being told during one of his walks through Vienna, ‘Now we are walking over the Danube Canal', he replied firmly, ‘No, Aunt Erna, this is the Wien Canal, which flows into the Danube Canal.’

14 December, 2017
This month 51 years ago… November 1966 – Tristan and Isolde

Chief engineer Bernard Poulten received this drawing from his colleagues at CERN’s Isotope Separator On-Line DEvice fifty-one years ago. In deference to the well-known legend and opera, it was inscribed ‘To Tristan from Isolde (project), 3.11.1966’. (You can see the full drawing here.) Clearing out some old papers recently, he and his family very kindly decided to send the drawing back to CERN… where it arrived just in time for ISOLDE’s anniversary celebrations!

ISOLDE, CERN’s longest-running experimental facility, produced its first radioactive beam 50 years ago. Past and present staff tell the story, with the help of some early film clips here.

31 October, 2017
This month 53 years ago… October 1964 – CERN’s 10th anniversary

On 10 October 1964 representatives of CERN’s Member States came to see for themselves the progress made during the laboratory’s first decade and to hear about plans for the future. On 30 October Director-General Victor Weisskopf invited all staff for a glass of wine to celebrate, and declared 2 November an official holiday.

You can read the official speeches here, or you can read R. W. Penney’s ‘unscientific recollections’ in the CERN Courier.  Penney preferred speak of an eleventh anniversary, since he said CERN really took off in September 1953, when the various groups began to centralise in Geneva. The Meyrin site was still a ploughed field, so they worked where they could; he summed up life in the early days as ‘exhilarating’ and ‘exhausting’.

9 October, 2017
This month 47 years ago… September 1970 – The European Southern Observatory at CERN

A new group set up at CERN in the 1970s had rather different objectives to those of the rest of the laboratory. Their main task was to build a 3.6 metre telescope to be sent to Chile, following signature of a collaboration agreement between the ESO and CERN on 16 September 1970.

The first meeting of the coordinating committee two years later reviewed progress and confirmed that ESO’s Sky Atlas Laboratory was also welcome to continue their work of mapping the southern sky at CERN. The groups relocated to the ESO’s new premises at Garching, Germany, in 1980. See the committee report, read the press release and Professor Blaauw’s article in the August 1970 CERN Courier, or enjoy some more photos of the teams at work.

13 September, 2017
This month 58 years ago… August 1959 – CERN Courier No. 1

‘It is a pleasure to introduce our long expected internal bulletin,’ wrote Director-General Cornelis Jan Bakker, ‘I hope it will benefit not only from your attention but also from the many suggestions which will certainly arise in CERN's fertile minds.’

The first CERN Courier featured visiting VIPs, a forthcoming trip to Russia, feedback on the 13th CERN Council Session and a round-up of news at CERN and abroad (Other Peoples' Atoms). Behind the scenes, an introductory report from the editor discussed the objectives and format of the proposed journal, and also how to finance it. Disagreement about whether it would be ethically acceptable to include advertisements rumbled on for quite some time.

9 August, 2017
This month 59 years ago… July 1958 – 8th Annual International Conference on High Energy Physics

The 8th Annual International Conference on High Energy Physics – known as the Rochester Conference, from the name of its first venue – was held at the Physics Institute of the University of Geneva. The format for this meeting, which was also the 2nd CERN Conference on High Energy Nuclear Physics, differed slightly from previous years. To maximise use of time, rapporteurs were chosen summarise the developments in their field. You can read the proceedings here or look at some of the deliberations of the planning committee here.

Even if rapporteurs helped make the content clearer for participants, CERN’s Public Information Office pointed out that it ‘will probably be too hard to digest for the average reporter and reader, even if cleverly "popularized". Thus the main stress should be placed on personalities and the spirit of international cooperation.’ (See memo.) There were plenty of high profile physicists to choose from, including Nobel Prize winner Wolfgang Pauli; a rare recording of him speaking at the conference is online here.   

31 July, 2017