Key technologies developed at CERN over the past 60 years have been finding their way into the outside world – and benefiting society.
So far, The European Organisation for Nuclear Research can be thanked for giving the world more efficient solar panels, the World Wide Web, touch screen technology and medical imaging to name but a few.
“The common drive for knowledge pushes us continuously to look for, and often develop, innovative technologies which are useful to us, as well as to others,” said Professor Dave Charlton.
You would assume CERN has always benefited financially through patenting such inventions. But it hasn’t - due to the highly collaborative way it works.
As one of Europe’s first joint ventures, its member states pump in millions of euros into the organisation every year to help develop new technologies which means they don’t want to then have to pay to use the inventions in their own countries.
In the past CERN simply published details of its inventions in the same way it published its scientific discoveries. In other words, they were freely available.
In 2010, though, CERN signed an agreement with the United Nations’ World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to ensure it benefited from its engineers’ innovations.
“Basic science is the driving force for innovation,” said CERN director General Rolf Heuer. “It is therefore vital for organisations like CERN to ensure that their knowledge and technologies find fertile ground for development.
The agreement with WIPO will stimulate both organisations to explore joint ventures that may also involve other international organisations.”
For CERN has many success stories of which it is proud. Here are just some of them.
Early research at CERN led to the World Wide Web. Tim Berners-Lee, one of its computer scientists, wrote and circulated a hypertext project in 1989 so that staff could access reports, notes and databases. A subsequent report was published in 1993. CERN recently celebrated 20 years of putting World Wide Web software in the public domain by restoring the first website to its original web address – http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html
TOUCH SCREEN TECHNOLOGY
Apple has long been credited with inventing touchscreen technology with the iPhone but the company simply innovated it. Engineers Bent Stumpe and Frank Beck actually developed the world’s transparent touch screen in the early 1970s which reacted to certain objects like a stylus. It was manufactured by CERN and put to use in 1973.
Vacuum technology developed at CERN for particle accelerators is now being used to make a new generation of solar panels with outstanding insulation. Crisoforo Benvenuti, who invented them, said that temperatures of 80 degrees Celsius had been recorded inside the panels even when they were covered in snow.
In May this year three young entrepreneurs, inspired by their time at CERN, launched ProtonMail, a secure email service with a sophisticated encryption system to deter would-be spies. The idea for the company was born in a CERN cafeteria where physicists and engineers regularly meet and share their ideas over coffee.
POSITRON EMISSION TOMOGRAPHY (PET) SCANS
CERN developed bismuth germanate and transparent lead tungstate crystals for its detectors. Today both types of crystals are used in PET scans which help to diagnose cancer. The PET scan produces detailed three-dimensional images of the inside of the body which can show how far a cancer has spread or how well it is responding to treatment. And accelerator technology, of which CERN is a lead laboratory, is now being used increasingly for medical purposes such as cancer treatment via hadron therapy, which allows to deliver a very localised dose of radiation to a tumour site more precisely than before.