Isidor I. Rabi and CERN

Research paper by John Krige

Indexed on: 01 Jun '05Published on: 01 Jun '05Published in: Physics in Perspective


Isidor I. Rabi (1898–1988) is the acknowledged “father of CERN,” today one of the most important particle-physics laboratories in the world. I explore his motives for promoting the idea in 1950 that Western Europe should build a “Brookhaven” with national governments replacing universities. I unravel the many ways in which a major accelerator facility in Geneva, Switzerland, could both stimulate European science and serve the interests of the American scientific community. Rabi was careful to avoid giving any official support to steps then under way in Europe to build a research reactor, even though Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, New York, had one from the outset. I suggest that his main motive for doing so was that he wanted West Germany to be part of the collaborative venture. Rabi was well aware of the foreign-policy objectives of the U.S. State Department in the European theater in 1950, and he wanted to situate politically the new research center in the framework of the Marshall Plan for the postwar reconstruction of the continent, “remaking the Old World in the image of the New.”