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UK reaps significant rewards from CERN membership


In 1954, the UK was one of 12 founding members of CERN, the world’s largest particle physics laboratory. CERN now hosts more than 13,000 researchers (including around 1,000 from the UK) from over 75 countries, working in pursuit of answers to fundamental questions about the nature of the Universe. UK membership of this world-famous science facility is managed by STFC.

A recent independent evaluation, which was able to monetise some of the benefits to the UK of membership of CERN, concludes that in the past decade the UK participation in CERN science has delivered a financial return close to investment and brought additional exceptional benefits in terms of science, society, and innovation. According to the authors of the independent evaluation, consultants Technopolis, membership of CERN is a prime example of the positive impacts that international collaboration can have on UK achievements and the development of the social, economic and diplomatic benefits. Highlights include:

World-class research:

UK scientists and technologists continue to play major roles in breakthroughs made at CERN, where research spans more than 100 scientific fields including particle physics, nuclear physics, astrophysics, accelerator physics, computing, engineering and more. UK scientists were involved in three of the eight Nobel Prizes awarded for work at CERN, including the Nobel Prize in Physics for work on the Higgs boson in 2013. Between 2009 and 2018, some 20,275 UK papers cited CERN; of these, 25% were in the top 10% most-cited papers in their field globally. The Higgs boson publication, with over 8,000 citations, is one of the most highly cited papers not solely in particle physics, but in any subject.

World-class innovation:

Life-changing breakthroughs in medical, environmental, technological and social spheres have been enabled through the major advancement in technology required for CERN experiments, all of which contribute to the UK’s economy. They include the World Wide Web, detectors for PET scanners, touchscreens, fibre-optic sensors and supercomputing.

World-Class Skills:

The training and upskilling of UK researchers and firms engaged with CERN is significant and associated with an uplift in earning potential. In addition, the movement of CERN-trained staff into other sectors provides much needed capabilities, partially compensating for the UK STEM skills shortage that currently costs UK firms £1.5 billion per annum.

International reputation:

CERN supports the strength of the UK research community and contributes to the UK’s international presence, visibility and reputation. As a world-leading research nation, the UK has a key role in influencing decision-making at CERN, promoting UK research interests and participating in ground-breaking science. The UK has been involved in all of the major experiments and discoveries at CERN, with many UK researchers holding influential positions.

Economic benefits for UK companies:

In order to deliver its research programme, CERN needs a wide variety of products and services. UK companies compete and win contracts that drive technical developments and manufacturing capabilities. In the last 10 years, 500 UK companies have done business with CERN and UK companies have won contracts that have achieved at least £183 million in revenue. Furthermore, the report estimates that working with CERN has opened up new markets for UK companies estimated to be worth £1 billion in turnover and £110 million in profit for UK suppliers on top of the direct income received through contracts.

CERN Case Study

Last updated: 10 September 2020

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