German Physicist to Head CERN

14 December 2007 (All day)

M. Brice/CERN

Dream job.
German particle physicist Rolf-Dieter Heuer will be the next director general of CERN.

The governing council of CERN, Europe's particle physics lab near Geneva, Switzerland, today tapped German particle physicist Rolf-Dieter Heuer to be its next director general. Heuer, 59, will take the reins for a 5-year term beginning in January 2009, half a year after CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is due to be completed. "Scientifically, my top priority is to get the LHC efficiently running and get the data analysis moving," Heuer told ScienceNOW. He has described the position as "probably the best job in physics research today."

Heuer is no stranger to CERN, having worked there from 1984 to 1998, the last 4 years as spokesperson for OPAL, one of CERN's biggest particle physics experiments. Since 2004, he has been research director for particle and astroparticle physics at DESY, Germany's particle physics lab near Hamburg, preparing its physicists to work with the LHC and, eventually, the proposed International Linear Collider (ILC) (Science, 21 February 2003, p. 1168). "This is a great distinction for him and a clear recognition of his many achievements, above all, his role as research director at DESY," says Heuer's current boss, DESY chair Albrecht Wagner.

The $3.2 billion LHC is a ring-shaped particle accelerator with a circumference of 27 kilometers (Science, 23 March, p. 1652). It will be the world's most powerful accelerator and is expected to reveal the existence of the Higgs boson, a particle believed to endow others with mass, as well as other subatomic denizens that may point to physics beyond the Standard Model, physicists' prevailing theory of fundamental particles. Heuer says that one of his other priorities is to bolster CERN's fixed-target program into hadron, antimatter, and neutrino physics so as to diversify the lab's activities. During the construction of the LHC, current director general Robert Aymar was forced by cost overruns to suspend most other experiments and focus almost all of CERN's resources on completing the LHC.

Third on Heuer's to-do list is to plan for CERN's long-term future, which, he says, "depends on the outcome of the LHC." Much of that future will be concerned with the ILC: Many physicists at CERN are already working as part of the worldwide design effort for the ILC, although CERN also has a rival linear collider design of its own, dubbed CLIC, that is less well-developed. Heuer says the worldwide community of particle physicists should work on both designs in parallel. Although the ILC design will start with a power of 500 giga-electron-volts and can be upgraded to 1 tera-electron-volt, he notes, the technology reaches its limit about there. CLIC, if it can be shown to work, will reach higher energies. "It's a mistake to back one horse. We need different horses," Heuer says.

Barry Barish, leader of the ILC's Global Design Effort, is happy to have Heuer on board. "Clearly, from the perspective of the ILC, the appointment of the new [director general] is a very, very positive thing," he says.

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