CERN becomes first pure physics voice in UN chorus

Lisa Grossman, physical sciences reporter


(Image: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras)

If CERN observes the proceedings of the United Nations, will it change the outcome?

The international particle physics laboratory, based near Geneva, Switzerland, has been granted observer status in the General Assembly of the United Nations, CERN officials announced today. 

The lab joins environmental groups and public health agencies as the first physical sciences research organization in the ranks of UN observers. Observer status grants the right to speak at meetings, participate in procedural votes, and sign and sponsor resolutions, but not to vote on resolutions.

In some ways, CERN's addition seems a natural move - and a long time coming.

The facility was founded in 1954 under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Its initial mission was to provide collaborative projects for researchers from Allied countries and former Axis countries after the second World War.

Arguably the lab's most high-profile project, the Large Hadron Collider, made headlines worldwide this year when it revealed detection of a new particle that appears to be the elusive Higgs boson.

"Through its projects, which bring together scientists from all over the world, CERN also promotes dialogue between nations and has become a model for international cooperation," CERN states in a press release. The lab says it may use its new status with the UN to help shore up scientific education and technological capabilities in developing countries, particularly in Africa.

But just as observing a quantum particle can change its state, can CERN's involvement truly collapse the UN's wavefunction and trigger better global science and technology policies? Only time will tell.

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