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Major budget cuts to slow world’s biggest atom smasher

August 25, 2010

GENEVA: Major budget cuts at the world’s biggest atom smasher over the next five years are set to slow down its quest to unlock the deepest secrets of the universe, management and staff warned on Wednesday.

The director-general of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), Rolf Heuer, presented a proposal for 450 million Swiss francs (433 million dollars, 343 million euros) in savings in 2011-2015 to its 20 member states at a meeting here, spokesman James Gillies told AFP.

“It will have an impact on the speed to which we get results, but not a dramatic one,” said Gillies.

In June, member states turned down CERN’s original proposal for a budget of about 5.0 billion francs over the period, asking Heuer to make “more of an effort” at the extraordinary meeting of the organisation’s finance committee on Wednesday, Gillies and staff representatives said.

Gillies insisted that CERN was trying to avoid harming the huge Large Hadron Collider experiment, a 27-kilometre (16.8-mile) circular particle accelerator buried under the French-Swiss border, and prevent staff cuts.

“Management felt it could slow things down without compromising the future,” he explained.

Several hundred staff and researchers took part in a one hour protest rally at CERN, as the organisation’s staff association warned that some countries wanted even deeper savings than those tabled, including job cuts.

“Budgetary cuts are going to slow down our accelerators,” said Gianni Deroma, head of the staff association.

“Additional budget restrictions could ruin all the efforts made so far and the marvellous first results given by the LHC,” he told the rally, where physicists rubbed shoulders with translators and support staff.

The 3.9-billion-euro machine is attempting to recreate powerful but microscopic bursts of energy that mimic conditions close to the Big Bang that created the universe.

After a shaky start and a 14-month delay, experiments at the LHC have in a few months replicated discoveries that took decades to complete at the rival Tevatron accelerator in the United States.

The LHC set records for smashing protons fired in beams approaching the speed of light in March.

Wednesday’s meeting is set to make recommendations to CERN’s council on September 16. —AFP