OF INTEREST: Charity begins at CERN

There is a mantra in the fund-raising world: big donors like to support big ideas. And ideas do not come much larger than at CERN, Europe’s particle-physics laboratory near Geneva in Switzerland. Now the organization — which uses its particle smasher to probe the fundamental structure of the Universe — has registered a charitable foundation to raise funds for its educational, technology-transfer and arts activities.

CERN is not the only big institution to go after donations to fund projects that fall outside the core research remit. The trend is on the rise among large European research organizations. The European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, is shifting its fund-raising focus from industry sponsorship to private donations. And ITER, the international nuclear-fusion experiment being built in Cadarache, France, is devising a way to deal with the offers of donations that it already receives. What nobody yet knows is the fruit these efforts will bear — whether individuals really want to donate heftily to scientific charities that are not focused on medical solutions.

For CERN, there is no better time to form a charitable foundation, says Matteo Castoldi, head of its development office. CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, and the discovery of the Higgs boson, has 'captured the public imagination' as much as the Apollo missions did in the 1960s, he says. The organization is already taking advantage of this, 'but there is much more we could do, and that’s where the foundation comes in'.

CERN director-general Rolf-Dieter Heuer stresses that such funding will not replace the institute’s core budget, paid for by member states. Instead, the proceeds are aimed at activities that this funding cannot stretch to: school projects, the development of medical spin-offs such as proton therapy (the use of proton beams to kill cancer cells), and meeting the huge demand for general-interest and science-related visits. But if a donor has an explicit desire for their gift to go towards research, CERN would consider this, adds Heuer.​

Read the full article on the Nature website.