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Lessons in making an impact at the Large Hadron Collider

Anna_BlackabyInternational Press Officer, Anna Blackaby, recently returned from an Erasmus-funded trip to CERN, to learn more about how their press office manages the global media impact of its research.

CERN is the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, located on the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva. It is one of the largest and most respected centres for scientific research in the world. CERN's fundamental mission is to learn more about what the Universe is made of and how it works. CERN was founded in 1954 but has become known as the home of the Large Hadron Collider, one of the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments, used to study the basic constituents of matter. Physicists are making daily discoveries about the fundamental laws of nature through studying what happens when these particles collide, so news stories coming out of CERN frequently have the potential to make a major impact on media around the globe.

Erasmus is the European Commission's mobility programme designed to encourage higher education student and staff mobility and University links within the EU.

Here, we interview Anna on her trip:

Would you recommend an Erasmus trip to others?

I would definitely recommend others apply to the scheme – but take your time to do a bit of research beforehand. The aim of the programme is to learn about best practice which you can make practical use of when you come back, so you need to identify a host organisation where they might do things better than we do here.

I chose CERN as I am interested in how Warwick can get more global headlines– and there aren’t many places in the world that can rival CERN for the international media impact of its academic research. There’s a bit of paperwork to fill out before and after the trip but nothing too onerous. The hardest part is finding the right person in your potential host organisation to approach and then convincing them that it’s a good idea for you to descend on them for a week.

How valuable was the trip for you both personally and professionally?

Apart from the chance to reactivate my rusty French, which was personally very beneficial, I had a fantastic insight into science media communication on a global scale. CERN has been at the centre of a media whirlwind around the search for the Higgs Boson so it was very interesting to see how they manage this intense media coverage. All the staff there were friendly and willing to answer my questions about the strategies and processes of the press office and the wider communications team.

I also got to see some of the particle accelerators, which although they kind of looked like very big pipes, were impressive nonetheless - and the passion of the scientists for what they do really brought things to life.

What are the three main things you’ve brought back from your experience?

I was really impressed by CERN’s commitment to communicating its work to as wide a public as possible – in fact it’s written into its founding agreement drafted in the 1950s. Scientists at CERN recognise that what they do depends on public money and they need to keep the public informed of what they are doing with it.

That means there is a good information flow between researchers and the press office and many are encouraged to blog and tweet as well as build up relationships with journalists from their own countries.

Secondly, I’m not going to deny that going to CERN was also a great opportunity to visit the beautiful (if expensive) city of Geneva.

And finally I’ve also learnt how to say ‘antimatter’ in French , which although I don’t know how I can slip it into conversation next time I cross the Channel, feels quite satisfying nonetheless.


Erasmus is the European Commission's mobility programme designed to encourage higher education student and staff mobility and University links within the EU.