Amid the splendour of Michelangelo’s architectural innovations at the Palazzo dei Conservatori on the Capitoline Hill, delegates from six European countries signed the Treaty of Rome on 25 March 1957. The treaty, which included the articles that founded the European Investment Bank, was “a declaration of future good intentions,” according to one historian. For two weeks, we are publishing a series of stories to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the treaty—one for each decade of the EIB story. These are stories of how the EIB helped turn good intentions into reality.
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It was finally happening. In a 27-kilometre tunnel, mighty magnets kept a stream of particles in orbit, while high-powered lenses focused them. Dr Frédérick Bordry came excitedly to his feet in the control room of the large hadron collider at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research. A quarter century after the start of operations, they had remade the conditions that existed at the beginning of the Big Bang. Bordry and his fellow scientists were able to observe the collision as two proton beams smashed into each other at the speed of light. The head of the technology department at the international facility near the Swiss-French border, he raised a glass of champagne to celebrate. “Wow, that’s really something,” thought Bordry, who’s now director of accelerators. “This is an amazing leap toward a deeper understanding of the conditions of matter.”
That was in March 2010. But the origin of the universe and the conditions of matter are puzzles not to be solved in one great blast. It took decades to reach that moment. Like the other scientists working at CERN (the French-language acronym of the organisation’s original name) Bordry knows there is endless study ahead of him and the other scientists, whose project is slated to run at least until the end of the 2030s. “We are able to explain now about four percent of the mass of the universe,” he says. “That’s a great achievement, but it’s still just a small proportion of everything that there is for us to know. Now we want to discover things like dark matter.” Even so, the data and techniques pioneered by the development of fundamental research at this large facility are already spun off into a number of start-up companies, some of the research material is available to private companies under licence, and CERN is planning to expand its incubator programme in collaboration with other research institutes and universities.