Archives of Leon Van Hove, Director-General of CERN from 1976 to 1980

Identity Statement [Top]

Reference code(s)



Archives of Leon Van Hove, Director-General of CERN from 1976 to 1980


1954 - 1991

Level of description


Extent of the unit of description

211 items, 146 boxes, 16 linear metres

Context [Top]

Name of creator

Léon Van Hove

Biographical history

Léon Van Hove was born in 1924 in Brussels, Belgium, in a schoolteacher's family. Fascinated by mathematics, he started in October 1941 the mathematics-physics section of the Free University of Brussels. In 1946 he got his Physics Doctorate in mathematics and became assistant in theoretical physics at Brussels University. From 1949 to 1954 he worked at Princeton Institute for Advanced Study by virtue of his meeting with Robert Oppenheimer, who had advised him to apply for a research fellowship. His research concerned problems in statistical mechanics and quantum field theory. Later, he was introduced to theoretical problems in direct relation to the experimental work then going on at Brookhaven National Laboratory on slow neutron scattering in solids and liquids. In 1954, he accepted a professorship and directorship of the Theoretical Physics Institute at the State University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. His research turned again to more fundamental questions : irreversibility and master equations in quantum statistics. In 1959, he received an invitation to become Leader of the Theory Division at CERN.

  • Activities at CERN :

Invited by Victor Weisskopf, Léon Van Hove joined CERN in 1960 and was leader of the CERN Theoretical Physics Division until 1965. He was very interested by the job because the CERN laboratory "was trying to build up a true centre of excellence in a field where the scientific leadership had moved to the USA" ("The legacy of Léon Van Hove" edited by Alberto Giovannini, World Scientific Series in 20th Century Physics - Vol.28, World Scientific Publishing, Singapore, 2000).

After 3 years with the Max-Planck Institute for Physics and Astrophysics in Munich (1971-1974), where he was chairman of the directorate, he returned to CERN and was invited by the Council to become Research Director General of the Laboratory (1976-1980). He was an expert on all theoretical and experimental scientific activities of the Laboratory in a critical period, and provided with John Adams the visionary leadership that brought CERN to the forefront of high energy physics.

His term was marked by two very important far-reaching decisions. The first decision was the antiproton programme: he decided to transform the SPS (Super Proton Synchrotron) just commissioned, into a proton-antiproton collider. This collider led in 1983 to the discovery of the weak bosons W and Z. He took a strong personal interest in its approval, execution and subsequent success. The second decision was to go ahead with the LEP (Large Electron Positron) proposal. He laid essential groundwork for its approval and its experimental programme. These decisions turned out to have a profound impact on the development of high energy physics, not only in Europe.

After completion of his term as Director General, he returned to his division and started a new, very active period as a research scientist.

During his 3 decades at CERN, he concentrated his research activity on problems closely related to current experiments. He selected the field of multiparticle dynamics : the dynamics of the high energy phenomena which are characterized by the production of large numbers of particles. This research combines features pertaining to elementary particle physics, quantum field theory and statistical physics.

  • Activities beyond CERN :

European Southern Observatory In 1981, the new headquarters of the European Southern Observatory opened in Garching bei München. Léon Van Hove helped to establish the joint ESO/CERN Symposia on Astronomy, Cosmology and Fundamental Physics. The basic idea was to hold meetings in which physicists, astrophysicists and cosmologists could interact and exchange new scientific information, at the same time trying to establish a common language which could overcome the barriers imposed by the technical terms of the various specialized fields.

  • European Space Agency :

In 1983, Léon Van Hove was invited to join the Survey Committee of ESA which had the task of preparing ESA's long term programme in Space Science (Horizon 2000 Programme). This Committee wanted to strengthen the links between space physics and particle physics. In 1984, he accepted the role of Chairman of the Science Programme Committee until 1987. Later, he refused the offer to chair the Space Science Advisory Committee, arguing that his knowledge of the science of space missions was not good enough and could not justify his taking that position.

  • Conclusion

Léon Van Hove developed his scientific career from mathematics, the main subject of his studies and his early work, over solid state physics, elementary particle and nuclear physics to cosmology. His work was placed in a double context: the reconstruction of scientific Europe (after 1945, the centre of world scientific activities seemed centred in USA) and the progress of theoretical physics.

He was a man of great culture, with a wide field of interest in art and literature as well as the sciences. He spoke many languages fluently (French, Dutch, English, German, Flemish) and had a university career spanning several countries. His outstanding achievements as a scientist were internationally recognised by several prestigious prizes (Heinemann Prize in 1962, the Max Planck Gold Medal in 1974) and many academic distinctions (Foreign Member of the Koninklijke Vlaamse Akademie voor Wetenschappen, Letteren en Schone Kunsten, Bruxelles ; Associate Member of the Academie Royale de Belgique, Bruxelles ; Foreign Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Boston ;...).

Léon Van Hove died on 2nd September 1990 at the age of 66.

* Source

"The legacy of Léon Van Hove" edited by Alberto Giovannini, World Scientific Series in 20th Century Physics - Vol.28, World Scientific Publishing, Singapore, 2000

"Léon Van Hove 1924-1990" by C. Rubbia, V. Soergel, M. Jacob, R. Bonnet and G. Dôme, CERN Publications, Geneva, 1990

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

The collection was received from Helga Schmal (DGR). One additional item, CERN-ARCH-DGR-LVH-208, was received from J-P F Santolines.

Content & Structure [Top]

Scope and content

The collection contains files concerning board decisions about research organisation and equipment management, collaborations between CERN and other countries, organisations and laboratories, associates and fellowships, communication policy (teaching, seminars, memorial gatherings,...), staff, finances. There are also some files concerning Léon Van Hove's career with correspondence, files on his work in the Theory Division of CERN and in the Max-Planck Institute für Physik in Munich.

  • Director of Research-History :

In 1961, CERN created a Directorate to prepare, with the Director-General, the main policies concerning the management and the scientific and technical activities of laboratories. This Directorate comprised three different Directors: Applied Physics, Administration and Research. It disappeared in 1966 until 1976, when CERN again changed its internal organisation and created two Directors-General : J.B. Adams, Executive Director-General, and Léon Van Hove, Director-General of Research. In 1981, CERN had once more only one Director-General and a new Directorate composed in part of two Directors of Research (Robert Klapisch and Erwin Gabathuler).

  • CERN equipment discussed in this collection :

The Synchro-Cyclotron (SC) was the first accelerator built at CERN. It was commissioned successfully in 1957 with its first proton beam and closed in 1990. It was conceived as an intermediate device until the Proton Synchrotron (PS) was operational in 1959. With this proton accelerator, a completely new energy range would be opened up, European scientists would work under conditions comparable to those in the USA and CERN would become an important laboratory in the field of the high energy physics. The PS was equipped with bubble chambers (Gargamelle, BEBC,...), the Omega Spectrometer in 1972, the LEAR (Low Energy Antiproton Ring) in 1982 and the detector European Hybrid System (EHS) the same year. The EHS was a particle detector which aimed to combine the technologies of bubble chambers and spectrometers. Essentially it consists of a rapid cycling bubble chamber as the target and detector and a series of particle detectors. The Intersecting Storage Rings (ISR), the third of the principal CERN accelerators, worked with the PS. When the ISR began to operate In 1971, it was the only proton storage ring machine in the world. It provided head-on collisions between protons in two counter-rotating beams. Protons supplied by CERN's Proton Synchrotron were injected clockwise into one of the rings and counterclockwise into the other, where they could be maintained in a stable orbit for many hours. The two identical rings, 300m in diameter, were interlaced and intersected at 8 points where the proton beams collided head on, with an impact equivalent to that made with a normal type of accelerator of a much higher energy. In 1979 CERN capitalized on its ISR investment by deciding to convert its new SPS into the world's first proton-antiproton collider. The Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS) (400 GeV), commissioned in 1976, was CERN's fourth accelerator. It is a circular accelerator, 7 km in circumference, buried underground. Originally built to accelerate protons, it since operated as a proton-antiproton collider, in virtue of Léon Van Hove's decision. The Large Electron Positron (LEP) was the largest particle collider in the world (27 km in circumference) and began operation in the summer of 1989, circulating electrons and positrons (antielectrons) in opposite directions at almost the speed of light. It was closed in 1999.

  • CERN collaborations discussed in this collection :

In 1954, CERN was created with 12 founding Member States : Federal Republic of Germany, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, Norway, The Netherlands, United Kingdom, Sweden, Switzerland and Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia left in 1961. Austria and Spain joined in 1959 and 1961 respectively - Spain left in 1969 and rejoined in 1983. The Member States provide financial contributions in proportion to their Net National Incomes.

The European Committee for Future Accelerators (ECFA) was set up at the beginning of 1963 on the initiative of Prof. Weisskopf, then Director-General of CERN and of Prof. Powell, Chairman of the CERN Scientific Policy Committee. It has several aims: to establish long-range planning of European high-energy facilities adequate for the conduct of a valid high-energy research programme by the community of physicists in the participating countries, to find an equilibrium between the roles of international and national laboratories and university institutes in this research, to create close relations between research and education in high-energy physics and other fields and to foster adequate conditions for research and a just and equitable sharing of facilities between physicists as conducive to a successful collaborative effort. ECFA is advisory to CERN Management, CERN Council and its Committees, and to other organizations, national or international. Traditionally, physicists from the countries which were Members of CERN in 1966 participate in ECFA. CERN is also considered as a "country".

The European Physical Society (EPS) provides an international forum for physicists and acts as a federation of national physical societies. Founded in 1968, the EPS worked to promote the interests of physics in Europe. Its activities revolve around the themes of promoting excellent physics research, supplying a European view on important questions relating to physics, and acting as a catalyst bringing together physicists in different countries, and a liaison between physicists working in different fields.

The European Science Foundation (ESF) is an association established in 1974. It has coordinated a wide range of pan-European scientific initiatives. Its aim is to act as a catalyst for the development of science by bringing together leading scientists and research funding agencies to debate, plan and implement pan-European initiatives.

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) was created in 1962 to "establish and operate an astronomical observatory in the southern hemisphere, equipped with powerful instruments, with the aim of furthering and organising collaboration in astronomy". It operates astronomical observatories in Chile and has its headquarters in Garching, near Munich, Germany.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)'s constitution was adopted by the London Conference in November 1945, and entered into effect on the 4th of November 1946. The main objective of UNESCO is to contribute to peace and security in the world by promoting collaboration among nations through education, science, culture and communication.

The European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), established in 1974, was founded with a four-fold mission: to conduct basic research in molecular biology, to provide essential services to scientists in its Member States, to provide high-level training to its staff, students, and visitors, and to develop new instrumentation for biological research. EMBL consists of five facilities: the main Laboratory in Heidelberg (Germany), Outstations in Hamburg (Germany), Grenoble (France) and Hinxton (the U.K.), and an external Research Programme in Monterotondo (Italy).

The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) is one of the world 's leading research laboratories. Established in 1962, it is located at Stanford University. Its mission is to design, construct and operate state-of-the-art electron accelerators and related experimental facilities for use in high-energy physics and synchrotron radiation research.

The Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) is one of the U.S. Department of Energy's largest research centers, chartered in 1946. Operated by the University of Chicago, it was a part of the World War Two Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. After the war, Argonne was given the mission of developing nuclear reactors for peaceful purposes. Over the years, Argonne's research expanded to include many other areas of science, engineering and technology: basic science, scientific facilities, energy resources and environmental management.

Los Alamos Meson Physics Facility (LAMPF) was a linear accelerator built in 1968 in the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center (LANSCE), a pulsed-spallation neutron source located at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The TRI-University Meson Facility (TRIUMF), established in 1968, is Canada's national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics. Located on the campus of the University of British Columbia with the world's largest cyclotron, it works towards a clearer understanding of the subatomic particles and fundamental forces that determine every aspect of the universe. It is a member of the international subatomic physics community.

The High Energy Physics Advisory Panel (HEPAP) It provides advice on the U.S. national igh energy physics programme, which encompasses the conduct of experimental and theoretical high energy physics research.

The Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA) is part of the Division of High Energy Physics, Office of Science, US Department of Energy (DOE). It was created in 1975 to expand research and development activities involving alternative forms of energy, and to reorganize nuclear energy regulation.

Fermilab, installed in Batavia, Illinois (U.S), is the largest high-energy physics laboratory in the United States, and the second in the world only to CERN. Originally named the National Accelerator Laboratory, it was commissioned by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in 1967. Fermilab is dedicated to research in particle physics, with the goal of understanding the fundamental nature of matter, space, and time. It operates the Tevatron, the world's highest-energy particle accelerator and collider.

Established in 1947, Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) is a multi-program national laboratory operated by Brookhaven Science Associates for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Its role for the DOE is to produce excellent science and advanced technology with the cooperation, support, and appropriate involvement of its scientific and local communities.

The Deutsche Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) is a national center of the physical basic research, located in Hamburg and Zeuthen. The particle physics research started in 1965.

Since 1974, the Swiss Institute for Nuclear Research (SIN), located in Villigen, had concentrated on experiments in core and elementary particle physics on its own accelerators. In 1988, it became the Paul Scherrer Institut (PSI) after merging with the Swiss Federal Institut for Reactor Research (EIR).

The High Energy Accelerator Research Organisation (KEK) was founded in 1971 in Ibaraki (Japan) for research in particle and nuclear physics and material science using advanced accelerators and related facilities.

The International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) was established in 1922 to stimulate and facilitate international cooperation in physics and the worldwide development of science. In 1976, it created the International Committee for Future Accelerators (ICFA) to facilitate international collaboration in the construction and use of accelerators for high energy physics.

The Trieste Centre (International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy) was founded in 1964 by Abdus Salam. It operates under the aegis of two United Nations Agencies: UNESCO and IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and is regularised by a seat agreement with the Government of Italy which provides the major part of the Centre's funding. One of the main aims of the ICTP is to foster the growth of advanced studies and research in the developing countries.

  • Max-Planck Institute für Physik :

The Max-Planck-Institut für Physik was founded in 1917 in Berlin, then named the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut für Physik. It moved several time. In 1958, under the directorate of Werner Heisenberg and Ludwig Biermann, it was installed in its present site in Munich and became the MPI für Physik und Astrophysik. Werner Heisenberg retired from the Institut für Physik at the end of 1970 and was succeeded by a board of directors including Léon van Hove (as chairman until 1974).The task of the Physics Institute has not changed since 1970: elementary particle experiments and theory with connections to relativistic cosmology and many-body physics.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information

Nothing was destroyed.


No further accruals are expected.

System of arrangement

The collection is catalogued in two sections: "DGR" items and "Léon Van Hove" items. Each part has its own classification plan covering : general matters, correspondence and CERN items (internal organisation, theory and experiments, collaborations, communication policy, staff, finances and others). The "Max-Planck Institute for Physics and Astrophysics in Munich" items are catalogued at the end of "Léon Van Hove" section.

Conditions of access and use [Top]

Conditions governing access

See file level description and the CERN operational circular No 3: rules applicable to archival material and archiving at CERN. In general, records on any subject that are over 30 years old, and all records of a purely scientific nature, may be consulted.

Conditions governing reproduction

Copyright is retained by CERN, no reproduction without permission.

Language / scripts of material

Most of the material is written in French and English. Many documents are written in German and Dutch; several are written in Italian, Russian, Swedish and Norwegian.

Finding aids

Listed to file level in the CERN Archives Database.

control [Top]

Archivist's note

Description prepared by Marie Lefeuvre

Date(s) of description

Geneva, the 6th September 2002, Revised 2007.