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Particles and interactions

Particles and interactions

Plasma physicist to head CERN

13 Dec 2002

CERN’s council today appointed Robert Aymar, director of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), as the lab's next director general. Aymar will succeed Luciano Maiani on 1 January 2004 and serve a five-year term. This will include the start up of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in 2007.

Throughout his career Robert Aymar has carried out research in plasma physics, both at a fundamental level and in its application to nuclear fusion. Born in 1936, Aymar studied physics at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris. In 1959 he was seconded to the CEA, the French atomic energy commission, before being appointed head of the Tore Supra superconducting tokamak in 1977. He directed Tore Supra, based in Cadarache in the south of France, throughout its construction and the production of its first plasma in 1988.

In 1990, Aymar was appointed head of the Sciences of Matter directorate at the CEA. In this position he directed a wide range of experimental and theoretical research programmes, including astro, particle and condensed matter physics, as well as paleo-climatology and fusion research. Then, in 1994, he was appointed director of ITER – the international project that is intended to test the feasibility of producing electricity using magnetic fusion.

Despite being a plasma physicist, Aymar is familiar with CERN, and with the LHC in particular. He was appointed chairman of the committee that was charged with evaluating the LHC project in 2001, after it emerged that the proton collider would cost about 30% more than originally envisaged. This review led to the seven-year “Baseline plan”, which was also approved by CERN’s council today, and which aims to commission the LHC in April 2007.

Aymar says he was surprised, but honoured, by his appointment. He says it is vital that CERN focuses its resources on completing the LHC, and acknowledges that this will unfortunately mean cut backs in other parts of the laboratory’s programme. But he believes that CERN does now have its house in order. “I am very happy with what the present director general is doing,” he says. “I will try to follow the same track.”

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