CERN celebrates end to a period of uncertainty

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New man: Maiani takes over in 1999

Amid a spirit of unusual cheer, the council of the Geneva-based European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) last month elected Luciano Maiani as its next director-general from 1999. Maiani is head of Italy's Institute of Nuclear Physics, the national research council for particle physics, and head of the CERN council.

CERN has managed to shed the gloom that overshadowed its Christmas last year when member states voted to cut its budget, thereby threatening the future of the planned Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a multi-billion dollar project (see Nature 384, 203; 1996).

Since then, the present director-general of CERN, Christopher Llewellyn Smith, has signed several agreements with non-member states, notably with the United States and Japan. These agreements are geared to enable the LHC to be constructed on time.

In addition, a cost-saving plan to offer CERN staff extra holidays in lieu of pay has proved an unexpected success. More than 1,500 staff have taken advantage of the scheme, and the savings are being converted into 37 new positions for young scientists.

The CERN council also agreed to extend the life of the Large Electron-Positron Collider (LEP) programme for one year beyond 1999, provided that SFr50 million (US$35 million) can be raised from outside sources. Maiani, who is a professor of theoretical physics at La Sapienza University in Rome, says that the scientific case for LEP is now very strong, and as director-general he will make it a priority to find the money.

His first priority, he says, will be to ensure the smooth construction of the LHC. “But it is important to ensure that the scientific life of CERN continues in the period of LHC construction,” he says. The extension to LEP is an important part of this.

He will also try to develop other experiments with outside resources, such as the proposed neutrino beam which would run from CERN to southern Italy. The experiment's goal is to determine whether neutrinos have mass.

To accept the post of director-general, Maiani has had to step down as head of the CERN council. This post has been taken by Hans Eschelbacher, an experimental nuclear physicist who has worked for many years in German science policy.

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Abbott, A. CERN celebrates end to a period of uncertainty. Nature 391, 4 (1998) doi:10.1038/33988

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