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About CERN's Name


The historical legacy

In 1951, a provisional body was created called the "Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire" (CERN). This was a council: a body of people. In 1953 the Council decided to build a central laboratory near Geneva. At that time, pure physics research concentrated on understanding the inside of the atom, hence the word "nuclear".

As ratified by the parliaments of the member states, the convention specifies that the laboratory is officially called the "Organisation européenne pour la recherche nucléaire" or "European Organization for Nuclear Research" (*).
However, the name of the Council stuck to the organization, which is why we are referred to in the literature as simply "CERN".
This is also the reason for the common mistake to think of the "C" of CERN as the first letter of "Centre", but the "C" stands for "Council".

Very soon, the work at the laboratory went beyond the study of the atomic nucleus, on into higher and higher energy densities.
Scientists here look for effects between the forces of nature that become noticeable only at very high energies.
Therefore, from early on, we have been a high-energy physics institute, or a "HEP" institute.
Because this activity is mainly concerned with the study of interactions between particles, we are also commonly referred to as the "European laboratory for particle physics" ("Laboratoire européen pour la physique des particules") and it is this latter title that really describes the current work of the laboratory.

To summarize

As an outsider, you may refer to us as "CERN, the European laboratory for particle physics near Geneva", but for legal reasons we will always communicate with you as the "European Organization for Nuclear Research".
CERN staff must use the official name in all CERN published materials.


CERN does pure scientific research into the laws of nature. We are not involved with nuclear weapons. The CERN convention states:
The Organization shall provide for collaboration among European States in nuclear research of a pure scientific and fundamental character, and in research essentially related thereto. 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 preferred spelling of the word "Organization" in British English is with a "z"; it is an exception to the rule that "-isation" is spelled with an "s". Recently both forms have become acceptable. This spelling was not influenced by US practice: see The Oxford English Dictionary, 1936 and 1961, Vol.VII, p.195; The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, 1989, Vol.X, p.923. But all this is perhaps irrelevant: the legal name is with a "z" because that is what is written in the Convention.