Women driving the Large Hadron Collider forward - Part 3

Did you know that starting January 1st 2016 CERN’s Director-General will be a woman for the first time in history? Waiting for Fabiola Gianotti to occupy this key position, DiscovHER continues to highlight the women scientists of the LHC! This week, get to know physicist Maria Kuhn, who works on the Operations team in charge of optimizing the collider’s particle beams for maximum collisions.

What inspired you to become a physicist?

I was driven by curiosity when choosing this field of study. Math and Physics were my favorite subjects in school. Also nobody else wants to study physics so it was fairly easy to get into university. However, making it to the end was very demanding and difficult.

What were your first impressions when you arrived at the LHC?

I came to CERN for my Master Thesis. I was impressed and very proud to be working here. It’s a great place to learn. Everyone is motivated about their research. I love to be a part of that.

What is your role at the LHC?

I work for the LHC operations team on “Emittance Preservation for LHC Beams”. That means I’m measuring quantities related to the beam quality in the LHC to ensure maximum productivity. For a high collision rate we need to keep a large proton density in the beams and minimize the beam spot at the interaction points. So that we achieve many collisions in a short amount of time. Which in turn increases the probability of producing a Higgs boson. My work is essential to the LHC’s performance.

What does your work in the Beams department involve?

Next to measuring the beam quality and certain machine parameters, my work also includes a lot of programming and data analysis. I have a few software projects for the LHC control room. Whenever there is a possibility to measure for instance the beam size I go to the control room and perform my measurements. Afterwards there is usually a lot of data to analyze and understand. Sometimes optimum parameters can be found after the measurements and implemented directly.

What's been the highlight so far?

The highlight was definitely the discovering of the Higgs boson and the public announcement on July 4, 2012. Being on the frontier of science is very exciting. We never know what the outcome of our research will be.

Why does the LHC matter?

The LHC matters because it is an important (politically) independent research facility for fundamental physics. It’s the world’s largest accelerator and we are able to see new physics regularly. Just during the three years I’ve been here the progress in all fields seems immense. We work very hard every day to ensure safe operation and high productivity. Nevertheless we also think 10 steps ahead. It’s great to already see the planning for the next, even bigger, accelerator. There is still so much to discover.

20% of staff at CERN are women. How has that impacted you?

It is unfortunate that the women/men ratio at CERN is so unbalanced. In fact now I don’t even realize anymore if I’m the only woman in a meeting. But I remember when I first arrived it was a bit strange. At university we were almost 50 % girls. However, I don’t feel treated differently than my male peers. What counts at CERN are purely research results.

How can more schoolgirls be encouraged into physics?

In my opinion the lack of female role models such as women in science discourages girls from studying and pursuing a career in science. It is slowly changing but I think a lot more could be done. I’m very pleased and proud that CERN’s new director general will be a woman. I look up to her and she inspired me in many ways.

Tell us which nuclear physicists inspire you at @4womeninscience!

Maria Kuhn was a Bachelor Student and Research Assistant at DESY in Hamburg, one of the world’s leading accelerator centers. She arrived to work on the LHC as a Master’s student in 2012 with a thesis about “Emittance Preservation at LHC”. Today she works in the accelerator control room on the Operations team and prepares a doctoral thesis.

For Women in Science

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