In the aftermath of the economic crisis, Italy continues to experience high unemployment rates and a constant brain drain that doesn’t facilitate recovery. Nevertheless, Italy has once again proved that it is home to some of the most beautiful minds in the world.
Dr. Fabiola Gianotti is a 52-year old particle physicist, and the first woman to be selected to head the prestigious European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland. The decision was announced on November 4 after CERN Council’s closed session, but the official appointment will be in December and Dr. Gianotti’s 5-year mandate as director general will begin on January 1, 2016.
“This is a great honor and responsibility for me,” she commented. “CERN is a center of scientific excellence, and a source of pride and inspiration for physicists from all over the world. It is also a cradle for technology and innovation, knowledge and education, and a concrete example of worldwide scientific cooperation.”
The news of Fabiola Gianotti’s designation wasn’t unexpected. In 2009, she also became the first woman to lead a particle physics experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest and most powerful microscope lying beneath the Franco-Swiss border.
For 4 years she was, in fact, leader of the ATLAS experiment, employing about 3,000 scientists from all over the world to record collisions between accelerated protons in the LHC. Her work led to the history-making discovery of the Higgs boson, which explains how all other fundamental particles gain their mass. As ATLAS’ coordinator and spokesperson, she announced to the international public the proof of the existence of the long-sought subatomic particle, recognized in 2013 by the awarding of the Nobel Prize to theoretical physicists François Englert and Peter Higgs.
The brilliant career of CERN’s next director general started in 1987 when, after completing a PhD in experimental sub-nuclear physics from the University of Milan, she joined the Organization composed of 21 member States.
Dr. Gianotti’s involvement with the ATLAS experiment began in 1992, but she also worked on other high-energy physics experiments and on liquid argon calorimetry. She is a member of renowned institutes and committees the likes of the Accademia dei Lincei and Illinois’ particle physics laboratory Fermilab. Besides her contribution to world science, which earned her several awards and the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, she has also displayed her talent in music and holds a professional diploma as a pianist from the Milan Conservatory.
She is credited with being passionate, disciplined, and calm. These qualities will certainly help her to shape CERN’s future development and shed light on some of the unsolved mysteries of our universe. One of the first challenges that Fabiola Gianotti will have to deal with will be to supervise the restart of the LHC, after 2 years of maintenance and upgrading to increase its energy.
“I will fully engage myself to maintain CERN’s excellence in all its attributes,” she said. “For me, this job is not only a great scientific adventure, but also a great human adventure.”