The German physicist Rolf-Dieter Heuer has been appointed as the next director general of the CERN particle-physics lab near Geneva. Heuer, 59, will take over from Robert Aymar on 1 January 2009, serving for a period of five years. During his time as lab boss, Heuer will oversee the first scientific results from the Large Hadron Collider, which is due to come on-line next summer. “Becoming director general is probably the best job in physics research today,” he said.

Heuer is currently research director for particle and astroparticle physics at the DESY laboratory in Hamburg, Germany, a position he took up in 2004. Heuer has also been a professor at the University of Hamburg since 1998, where he set up a group planning for a possible future electron-positron collider. Indeed, most of his career has involved building and operating large particle-detector systems for studying electron-positron collisions.

“My first priority is to ensure the LHC is running well and taking data,” he told “My second is to see, from the results from the LHC, where particle physics will take us in the future.”

Heuer is a familiar face at CERN, having been a staff scientist at the lab for 14 years from 1984, where he worked on the OPAL experiment at the Large Electron Positron (LEP) collider, including a spell as spokesman from 1994 to 1998. He was previously a post-doc at the University of Heidelberg, having obtained a PhD there in 1977. He obtained his first degree in physics at the University of Stuttgart in 1974.

As research director at DESY, Heuer has also been responsible for the lab’s HERA accelerator, which closed down earlier this year, and reorienting the lab towards LHC research.

Speaking in a personal capacity, Heuer said he failed to comprehend the UK's recent decision to withdraw from plans for an International Linear Collider, the next big experiment in particle physics after the LHC. “For many years there has existed a world-wide consensus that the proton collider at CERN would need to be complemented by a linear collider. In 2004, [the UK science minister] Lord Sainsbury voted in favour of a linear collider. To drop out suddenly is incomprehensible. I can only hope that this decision can be reversed.”