Fabiola Gianotti, the first woman at the head of CERN

Fabiola Gianotti is one of the most influential people in science today. Nominated last December as the next Director General of CERN, one of the world's major research centers, Dr. Gianotti will be the first woman to head this institution.

From music to science

Before being drawn to physics, Fabiola Gianotti was passionate about art and music – she is a pianist with a diploma from the Milan music conservatory – and her studies focused at first on ancient Greek, Latin, and philosophy. It seemed that she was following in her mother’s footsteps, a Sicilian art and music lover. It was her interest in understanding the most fundamental questions that eventually led her to physics. “I thought that physics, the little bit I knew of it would allow me to address those questions in a more practical way. I mean, being able to give answers,” she told Time magazine who ranked her as one of five Personalities of the Year in 2012.

Part of an extraordinary discovery

After receiving her PhD in experimental particle physics from Milan University, she started her career in 1994 at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research. In 2009, she was elected project leader of the Atlas experiment, one of CERN’s two major projects dedicated to proving the existence of the Higgs Boson, the particle essential to understanding the creation of mass in the universe. In 2012, she announced to the world, standing beside Peter Higgs, that the years of research led by Atlas and its counterpart team CMS, had been successful. It was a triumph for European science and an important step to understanding the origins of our universe. This discovery led Peter Higgs to win the Nobel Prize and Gianotti and six other CERN physicists to win the most lucrative science rewards, including the Special Fundamental Physics Prize. One million dollars that Dr. Gianotti and her colleague Peter Jenni announced they would use to help struggling physicists working within Atlas.

A natural leader

In addition to her excellence in science, Dr. Gianotti’s great people skills and natural leadership are undoubtedly what led her to be elected head of Atlas - where she managed over 3000 scientists from 177 universities and 38 countries - and now of CERN. The current Director General of CERN has said of her nomination: “Fabiola Gianotti is an excellent choice. It was a pleasure working with her all these years and I am looking forward to collaborating with her during the transition year of 2015.”

Fundamental research fosters creativity

Fabiola Gianotti

Science for progress

Fabiola Gianotti feels very strongly about the role science can play not only in answering the great questions about our universe, but also in our daily life. She thinks science should be understood by the whole of society as a great lever for change. And development. “We have to communicate on the importance of science, the results of science. Explain why it is so important to advancing knowledge, but also for our life. (…) Basic science and fundamental research are crucial for progress and for a better world. Fundamental science produces ideas.” Her strongest message might be one of peace. “At CERN, people from all over the world work together on the same project. They make science a global, unifying element for mankind.”

For Women in Science

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