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CERN halts Russian Large Hadron Collider collaboration due to the invasion of Ukraine

Russian scientists make up about 8 percent of CERN staff.

CERN halts Russian Large Hadron Collider collaboration due to the invasion of Ukraine
LHC is the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. xenotar/iStock

The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) will not start new collaborations with Russian scientific organizations amid the ongoing invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces.

The move comes after a request from Ukrainian scientists working at CERN following the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces, according to a report by Science.

It is also currently considering whether to expel the hundreds of Russian scientists on its payroll, some of whom have been outspoken against the invasion of Ukraine.

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Russia is burning international bridges

CERN operates the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the largest particle physics laboratory in the world, and it is also planning its successor, the €20 billion ($21.9 billion) Future Circular Collider. The LHC discovered the Higgs-Boson particle in 2012, also known as the "God particle". Operations have been on hold for the past three years due to facility upgrades as well as delays caused by the pandemic.

A Ukrainian physicist in Kyiv who works with CERN, and asked not to be named, said, "CERN as a leading scientific laboratory should terminate immediately any cooperation with Russian institutions because otherwise every crime and every injustice made by their government and their armed forces is seen as legitimate."

"We call on democratic society, on scientific society, to stand with us against this tyrant [Russian President Vladimir Putin]," they added.

Much like the International Space Station (ISS), the LHC has long been considered a bridge between Russia and the West, as it has fueled previously unseen collaboration between scientists from all over the world. For now, however, those doors are being shut to Russian scientists as conflict continues in Ukraine.

CERN condemns Russia's Ukraine invasion

Russian scientists currently make up approximately 8 percent of CERN's staff, which accounts for about 1,000 out of the organization's total of 12,000 scientists. According to Science, CERN will now halt cooperation with Russian scientific institutions following a request from Ukrainian scientists, and a subsequent meeting that took place on Tuesday, March 8. CERN, which was founded in 1954, has 23 member states and 7 associated member states. Ukraine is an associated member state, whereas Russia is not formally a member of the organization.

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"The 23 Member States of CERN condemn, in the strongest terms, the military invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation, and deplore the resulting loss of life and humanitarian impact," CERN's council explained in a statement released after the meeting. "Deeply touched by the widespread and tragic consequences of the aggression, the CERN Management and personnel, as well as the scientific community in CERN's Member States, are working to contribute to the humanitarian effort in Ukraine and to help the Ukrainian community at CERN."

In practical terms, this means that Russia will no longer have an "Observer" status at the LHC, a status which is also held by the U.S. and CERN will not begin new collaborations with Russian scientific institutions. It is not yet clear whether the roughly 1,000 Russian scientists already at CERN will continue to work in their current positions, or if they will be expelled.

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"The situation will continue to be monitored carefully and the Council is ready to take any further measures, as appropriate, at its future meetings," CERN's statement continued. "The CERN Council also expresses its support to the many members of CERN's Russian scientific community who reject this invasion."

Some Ukrainian physicists have noted their Russian colleagues have been outspoken against the war in Ukraine, meaning they might need to seek refuge away from their own government. According to Science, the question also remains as to how exactly CERN would function without the roughly 1,000 Russian scientists it currently employs. Though the exact number is uncertain, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says that more than 400 civilians have died since the start of Russia's invasion. The LHC is expected to begin operations once again in the spring, but this schedule is likely to be impacted by the ongoing war in Ukraine.

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