For the latest edition of the Project Management Series, we have Patrick Geeraert, the Project Manager of the CERN Science Gateway. In this series, we aim to explore the various projects supported by the CERN & Society Foundation through the lens of the managers facilitating these projects. The CERN Science Gateway is the new emblematic education and outreach facility to be built next to the Globe of Science and Innovation in Geneva, Switzerland.
What is the CERN Science Gateway?
The CERN Science Gateway is literally a gateway to CERN for schools, families and general public. It will be a visitor and education centre, which will focus on the younger audiences to try to inspire the next generations to take up STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) studies and careers. With it, we aim to explain to the general public what fundamental research is and what we do here at CERN.
What to expect- a science museum or a science lab or something completely different?
It’s not a science museum or a science lab, but at the same time, it is both of them and more. It will host a large auditorium (900 seats) that will allow us to hold talks, colloquiums, and events for CERN personnel and the general public; labs, built on the idea of the CERN S’Cool lab, will be available to schools for workshops; and three exhibition areas. One of them, called Discover CERN and hosted in one of the tubes, will focus on CERN activities: accelerators, research detectors, computing, etc. The second tube will host an exhibition about the history of the universe, bringing visitors back to the big bang and projecting them to the future, with the help of art pieces that will inspire the reflection on the big questions around the future of the universe. The last exhibition area will focus on the Quantum World.
What benefit will the CERN Science Gateway provide to CERN as well as the visitors?
The CERN Science Gateway will be free to access for everyone. CERN will mainly benefit from such a big and versatile auditorium, which will have the ability to be split into 3 smaller rooms. There, we will be able to have large events like ATLAS Week. Moreover, the CERN Science Gateway will have its own restaurant, which visitors will use, relieving pressure from the other busy restaurants and cafeterias on campus. Overall, the biggest benefit will be inspiring the next generations in science so they can continue the mission of CERN with fundamental research.
As for the visitors, every year we receive many more requests for visits than we can offer - some 300,000 requests where we can fulfil only about 150,000 guided tours today. With the CERN Science Gateway, we will be able to receive twice as many schools’ visits, but it will also be a very nice place for families to spend their weekends and visit the exhibitions.
How will the CERN Science Gateway be different from the normal visits CERN receives every year?
With the CERN Science Gateway, we will be able to offer educational programmes to very young kids, starting from ages of 5 to 6 years. Research tells us that kids make choices about their educational careers around the ages of 11-12, especially girls. Hence, if we want to spark their interest and love for science in a meaningful way, we need to inspire them at a very young age. We plan to do this through events, exhibitions, and workshops, where kids will play with robots, learn to programme and make the first steps toward science and technology.
We plan to create an impact on the local area and community by providing lab spaces and activities to local primary schools in the labs and inviting parents over the weekend for family activities too.
Can you share any installation or project ideas that you are most excited about?
Firstly, working with the architects, the Renzo Piano Building Workshop in association with Brodbeck-Roulet architectes associés, has been amazing. Renzo Piano has an illustrious profile, and the design of the Science Gateway is really remarkable and will mark the area significantly. One of his very first ideas was to link nature and science. So, we are going to create a campus with more than 400 trees. It will include the Globe of Science and Innovation and IdeaSquare. We will also generate our own electricity with solar panels on the roofs of the three pavilions.
How are the CERNois involved in the Science Gateway?
The Science Gateway will have lots of experiments and exhibitions that are being developed with the CERN physicists, engineers and technicians. In one of the tubes, we will have ELISA (Experimental LINAC for Surface Analysis)- a proton accelerator that is being built at CERN. The visitors will be able to see the beam in the accelerator with their naked eyes, be able to do experiments on it, understand how they can bend the beam using magnets, change colours and also understand the purpose of the accelerator. With this accelerator, you can also identify materials that you put in the path of the beam. This is going to be very useful for archaeology, art museums... and all of this will be available for the public to see and experience.
The CERN personnel will take ownership of the new space by volunteering their time as guides and driving some workshops and experiments. They’ll also be engaged in the various talks and lectures that will be organised. It’s all very exciting!
What is the expected timeline of the CERN Science Gateway?
The construction of the CERN Science Gateway has already commenced. We have started the excavation for the two pavilions near the CERN Meyrin site. There is a small ceremony scheduled for the 18th of June for the first bricklaying, pending the restrictions of the pandemic. The building is scheduled to be constructed by the end of 2022 and it will be open to the public in early 2023.
Has the project reached its target in terms of fundraising?
For the capital funding, the cost is estimated at CHF 87 million. We have secured donations for CHF 77 million with the help of the CERN & Society Foundation. We are still looking for partners to conclude the capital campaign. For the operations, half of the budget will come from CERN and the other half will come from the revenue generated from the Science Gateway itself- such as the parking, the shop, the restaurant lease and the auditorium rentals, as well as donations. This will allow us to keep the Science Gateway free of access for all.
Tell us about you, and your role as the project manager.
I’ve been at CERN since 1985. I started working in administration- procurement, budgets and financial planning. Later I was the head of the finance, procurement and logistics Department during the LHC construction. At the end of the LHC construction, I was approached by ESO (en. European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere) where I went on detachment for one year as the Director of Administration. During that mandate which ended up taking 9 years, we also created the ESO Supernova Planetarium and Visitor Centre. After that was done, I was asked by Fabiola Giannotti, CERN Director-General, to do something similar here at CERN, and this is how the Science Gateway started!
As for my role, I am involved in everything related to the CERN Science Gateway. I started with a blank page, so with the help of my colleagues, I went from the initial concept to the fundraising, to the construction and now to the operations. It’s been a long journey, but I am happy that we have the CERN Science Gateway to look forward to.