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CERN | Geneva | Switzerland

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Shared norms for the new reality

Shared norms for the new reality. That’s the theme of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos next week, and it’s a subject that resonates well with science. Shared norms underpin the success of our field and always have: if the world’s particle physics labs did not share their know-how freely and openly, our understanding of the universe at the fundamental level would be decades behind. And if basic and applied research did not constantly interact at our labs, the technologies our field has spawned would still be waiting in the wings. I’ll be going to Davos next week, and this is the message I’ll be taking with me.

The fact that CERN has been invited to speak at Davos this year is a very positive sign for basic science. It shows that the members of the Davos club recognise the value of basic science to society, and it also recognises the leading role that particle physics plays in scientific globalization. To many, globalization is seen as a threat, but our science shows how it can work to the benefit of all.

In our field, sharing norms around the world has been a reality for decades. Cross border collaboration is in our genes. Today, with CERN opening up to countries from beyond Europe, it is becoming more firmly established than ever. This year, Europe begins the process of reviewing its strategy for particle physics, first published in 2006. And in parallel, the global particle physics community is working towards a global vision for the field. Together, these initiatives show that particle physics around the world is planned and executed in a coordinated way. They ensure that funding agencies can be confident that their investments in particle physics are optimised to deliver knowledge and innovation for the benefit of all.

Such optimisation does not just apply to cross border collaboration, but also to the cross fertilisation of basic and applied science. CERN is known as a basic science lab, but we have much to contribute in applied areas of research as well. Just think of the World Wide Web, or numerous advances in the medical arena that began their lives in particle physics labs like CERN. What’s essential is to ensure that knowledge flows between basic and applied science, so that new ideas are there for the innovators, and that new technologies are there for the basic scientists. It’s essential too that highly visible facilities like the LHC, which have the power to inspire, continue to thrive. It’s projects like these that attract bright young minds to science as a whole, that serve as a vehicle for greater dialogue between science and society, and that can foster appreciation of the vital role science plays in all of our lives.

The fact that sharing norms comes so naturally to particle physics is a strong message to the world leaders who will come together next week in Davos. The World Economic Forum makes much of the ‘spirit of Davos’, saying that the meeting is not simply a network for leaders, but rather an opportunity for participants to connect with people they don’t know, people who challenge the way they think and act. My aim is to enter fully into the spirit of Davos. To reinforce the message that in our field of science, globalization is a force for the good, while challenging the notion that we have a choice between basic and applied research. We do not. And that’s particularly true at a time of economic downturn, when basic science is more important than ever.

Rolf Heuer

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