PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


CERN Open Days
Going beyond head-counting

Daria DvorzhitskaiaCERN, ITMO University. Russia


  • Lauren ElwinUniversity of Geneva   United Kingdom
  • Ana GodinhoCERN   Portugal
  • Leonore Saade-AugierUniversity of Geneva   France
  • Annabella ZamoraUniversity of Geneva   France

CERN (European Laboratory for Particle Physics) Open Days traditionally take place every 5-6 years, attracting tens of thousands of visitors. The key component of this large-scale event is an opportunity for the public to visit CERN’s facilities and interact with the CERN scientists, engineers and other members of personnel who volunteer for the event. The communication outcomes of such interactions, however, were never measured systematically until this year, when, for the first time, the implementation of the Open Days was accompanied by a communication-focused research project.

Research questions

This study set out to evaluate communication outcomes of the Open Days through the diversity of aspects. What did volunteers intend to communicate and what did visitors take home as messages? How did visitors’ and volunteers’ perception of CERN and of each other change after the Open Days? Were the strategic goals defined for the Open Days achieved? How can ‘engagement’ be understood in the context of such an event? Which new questions about public-scientists interaction does the study raise?


These aspects were explored by using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. Web-based surveys, mainly comprising semantic differentials and open questions, were applied before (summer 2019) and after the Open Days (September 2019). Overall, 6817 visitors (ca. 9%) and 1381 volunteers (ca. 49%) responded to them. In addition, survey data were complemented by structured observations of visitor-volunteer interaction at 97 activities during the event.


The findings will inform CERN’s public communication activities, such as future editions of the Open Days, permanent exhibitions, guided tours and social media campaigns. More broadly, the insights provided by this study will benefit practitioners communicating about fundamental physics or for large scientific institutions, as well as researchers evaluating communication outcomes of similar events.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Category: Insight talk
Theme: Transformation