24-25 November 1959: record energy levels reached as CERN’s Proton Synchrotron comes into operation

At the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) physicists and engineers study the fundamental structure of the universe using the world's biggest and most complex scientific instruments. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which came into operation on 10 September 2008, is most powerful particle accelerator ever built.

CERN's Proton Synchrotron (PS), which accelerated protons for the first time in 1959, was also, for a few months, the world's highest energy particle accelerator. It reached its full design energy of 24 GeV (later increased to 28 GeV) during the night of 24 November 1959, and the following morning project leader John Adams announced the achievement in the main auditorium. In the photo he holds a vodka bottle he had been given during a recent trip to the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, with instructions that the contents should be drunk when CERN passed the Russian Synchrophasotron's world-record energy of 10 GeV. The bottle contains a photograph of the 24 GeV pulse ready to be sent back to Dubna.

CERN came into being in 1954, after several years of planning, with a view to pooling resources depleted after World War Two. The CERN Convention states: "The Organization shall provide for collaboration among European States in nuclear research of a pure scientific and fundamental character (...) The Organization shall have no concern with work for military requirements and the results of its experimental and theoretical work shall be published or otherwise made generally available." The aim was to unite European scientists and allow them to share the increasing costs of nuclear physics facilities. Collaboration and friendly rivalry with physicists world-wide has always been an important part of this!

The PS has a circumference of 628 metres and was CERN's second accelerator, following the 600 MeV Synchrocyclotron, which came into operation in 1957. The design for the PS was radically altered in 1952 to take into account the strong-focusing or alternating gradient focusing technique that had just been developed at Brookhaven (US), whereby smaller magnets could be used to guide particles around the accelerator if they were arranged with their field gradients facing alternately inward and outward around the ring, rather than the conventional outward-facing alignment. It was a risky decision to follow this unexplored route, but one that paid off in allowing construction of a much more powerful machine for the same cost.

As new machines were built, the PS continued to play a vital role in supplying them with particles. The accelerator complex at CERN comprises a succession of machines that accelerate particles to increasingly higher energies. Each one boosts the energy of a beam of particles, before injecting it into the next machine in the sequence. The intensity of the PS's proton beam has increased a thousandfold since 1959, and in the course of its history the PS has accelerated many different kinds of particles, becoming one of the world's most versatile particle jugglers.


For more information:

About CERN

The accelerator complex

CERN's history


Page navigator