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François Wittgenstein


François Wittgenstein — 1931-2015

François Wittgenstein, well known for his work on generations of magnets at CERN, passed away on 1 May.

François received his diploma as electrical engineer at the Technical University of Zürich (ETHZ) in 1955 at the age of 24.  He started his career in industry by taking up a job with the Maschinen Fabrik Oerlikon Zürich to work first on electrical locomotives and then on magnets.  In 1961 he joined CERN and was first involved in calculations for the magnet for the 2m bubble chamber, before being put in charge of various projects relating to beams feeding the bubble chambers:  magnets, collimators and even an electrostatic separator.

In 1966, François joined the nascent Big European Bubble Chamber (BEBC) project — a special French-German-CERN programme — that was implemented at CERN during the early 1960s.  With his experience as electrical engineer in industry, François was put in charge to set up a technical group within the BEBC project that would be responsible for the design and construction of a very large superconducting magnet.  This would provide a magnetic field of 3.5T, uniform over the sensitive bubble chamber volume of 35m3.  The stored energy of 800MJ for a single magnet was a record at the time and would remain so until the end of the 20th century.  During all of the years up to the end of BEBC, François and his team supervised the correct operation of their large magnet.

With the closure of BEBC in 1984 and the start of construction of the Large Electron-Positron collider at CERN, François and his team took up again the task of constructing an even larger magnet.  This time the magnet was normally conducting but nevertheless equally challenging — the assembly of the huge aluminium coils for the magnetic volume of the L3 experiment.  This huge magnet is still an integral part of the ALICE experiment at point 2 on the LHC.

At the beginning of the 1990s, François strongly pushed the early development of large conductors that were needed for the proposed large LHC experiments.  Besides numerous tests in relation to the extrusion parameters, he played an essential role, in collaboration with ETH Zürich, in the development of the system for the online quality-control of the conductor, in particular, of its geometry and the quality of the joint between the copper cable and the aluminium stabilizer.  He continued to take an active interest in this topic after reaching retirement age and, following the approval of the LHC experiment collaborations, he was appointed member of the technical Magnet Advisory Group to review magnet construction until the early 2000s.

After retiring in 1996, François was also active in the CERN-ESO Pensioners' Association (GAC-EPA).  After many years as observer to the Pension Fund Governing Board, he was formally appointed as the first representative of GAC-EPA to the governing board when the new governance for the pension fund was introduced in 2006.  During this period he had to face many often turbulent and sensitive issues, but his competent contributions and his strong commitment to this task were broadly acknowledged from all sides.

François was a real “CERNois” — we will miss him greatly.

His colleagues and friends