'Millennium physicist' ready to take helm at nuclear center

December 29, 2015 byJamey Keaten
'Millennium physicist' ready to take helm at nuclear center
In this July 4, 2012 file photo Rolf Heuer, foregroundt, Director General of CERN, European Organization for Nuclear Research, and Fabiola Gianotti, left, ATLAS experiment spokesperson, attend a news conference in Meyrin near Geneva, Switzerland. On Jan.1, 2016 the 55-year-old Italian becomes the first woman Director General at CERN the world's biggest particle accelerator that smashes together atoms and monitors the fallout to help understand the universe at the most infinitesimal scale. (Martial Trezzin/Keystone via AP, File)

Fabiola Gianotti, who this week takes the helm at CERN, home to world's largest particle accelerator, is seen as a new breed of scientist. Initially trained in arts and literature, she came to physics relatively late. She enjoys cooking, jogging, music and keeping her eye on the news, and notes the importance of being "a citizen of the world."

Gianotti "embodies for me what's much more the millennium physicist," said Dr. Monica Dunford, senior scientist at Germany's University of Heidelberg, who spent six years at CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research. "Not so geeky, much more well-rounded, diverse, passionate."

"Fabiola brings freshness to science: She's incredibly energetic, incredibly passionate, has a lot of different talents. ... She has a degree in piano in addition to physics," Dunford said.

Gianotti, who succeeds Germany's Rolf Heuer as director-general on Jan. 1, becoming the first woman to hold the post, insists she doesn't want to be "front stage" at the multinational laboratory on the Swiss-French border: Her bigger focus is about helping produce science for science's sake in the quest to explain the how the universe works.

The 55-year-old Italian stands out not just for her fashion sense in a sneakers-and-jeans culture of coffee-fueled collaboration, sleepless nights and absent-mindedness about proper eating. In an interview held in a CERN conference room because her office was a "mess" during her move, Gianotti mused about an innovative, democratic community where Nobel laureates lunch with 25-year-old Ph.D. students.

In this Dec. 13, 2011 file photo Fabiola Gianotti attends a news conference at the the European Center for Nuclear Research,CERN,in Meyrin near Geneva, Switzerland. On Jan. 1, 2016 the 55-year-old Italian becomes the first woman director-general at CERN the world's biggest particle accelerator that smashes together atoms and monitors the fallout to help understand the universe at the most infinitesimal scale. ( Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP, File)

"CERN is a special place where we do fund research by bringing together experts from over the planet—great scientists—but also a huge amount of young people," she said. It's "a democratic environment in that there are no barriers."

The center's particle accelerator smashes together atoms and monitors the results to help understand the universe on the most infinitesimal scale. The Large Hadron Collider sends protons whizzing through a circular, 27-kilometer (17-mile) underground tunnel at nearly the speed of light. The $10-billion LHC, said to be the biggest machine ever built, is best known for its experiments that provided evidence in 2012 of the Higgs boson, a minute particle some have called the "God Particle" for its key position in the standard model of physics.

At that time, Gianotti headed Atlas, a team of 3,000 scientists and one of two independent teams that turned up the Higgs. That year, she was a runner-up to President Barack Obama as Time's Person of the Year. But achieving an encore to the headline-grabbing event like the Higgs discovery will be no small feat.

The collider has just completed "Run II"—its second-ever cycle of operations—and will take a traditional winter break until resuming in March.

Created in 1954, CERN has become a think tank where gray matter meets matter, and most recently, is focusing on a quest to explain dark matter—the unexplained mass that makes up 25 percent of the universe but sits outside the standard model.

Run by scientists and all but unconstrained by economic demands, CERN has become a broad incubator of ideas. It was here that Britain's Tim Berners-Lee came up with the World Wide Web as a tool for scientists to communicate globally through the Internet. Spinoff science and applications are constantly being churned out.

Gianotti, one of the world's great physicists, also has skills in crisis management—such as during trouble with one of the proton beams in 2009 that caused disgruntlement from funding agencies, collaboration teams and equipment makers, Dr. Dunford said.

"She showed the whole of CERN that she could really handle that kind of pressure," said Dunford. "It doesn't really get worse than that."

While Swiss and French police have stepped up border controls amid new counterterrorism measures that at times snarls traffic at CERN's entrance, inside it remains a haven of collaboration above mundane matters, she said.

"It reinforces the importance of places like CERN to foster peace, collaboration and showing that people from all over the world can work together regardless of their ethnicity, religion, tradition, language, color of their skin, age, etc." she said.

She had upbeat words for an accord reached this fall with America's Fermilab, an upcoming decade-long CERN project to soup up the luminosity of Large Hadron Collider that will allow for creation of 15 million Higgs bosons a year, and China's plans to build its own, much bigger collider.

"It's a great thing because particle physics is becoming more and more global," Gianotti said. "The outstanding questions in particle physics are so important, but also so complex, that just one instrument is not enough to address them all."

Gianotti said she doesn't feel she faced additional hurdles ascending the ranks at the world's largest particle accelerator. But she acknowledges that that's not the case for all women.

"In general I think the mentality is changing and people are more and more recognizing that what they are looking for is excellence in science, in managerial skill, etc.," Gianotti said.

"I didn't feel I was treated a different way because I was a woman," she said, noting that one in five collaborators in the Atlas project were women. "But I also have to tell that some of my colleagues had a more difficult life. ... Some others suffered a bit and had to face some hurdles and some difficulties."

Gianotti acknowledges there could be surprises ahead, but hopes they are scientific, not managerial.

"I am very much honored by the role, not so much because I am a woman, but because I am a scientist, and having the honor and the privilege of leading perhaps the most important laboratory in the world in our field is a big challenge," she said. "I will do my best."

Explore further: Riddle of 'God particle' could be solved by 2012: CERN (Update)

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22 comments

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gkam
2 / 5 (8) Dec 29, 2015
Hurrah. We need well-rounded scientists to make the decisions which affect the other parts of our lives. We have seen what happens in groupthink situations, as they go on out-of-touch with the rest of Humanity.

I get a lot of nonsense from otto and those who are scared of experience, but multi-skilled generalists are what we need for management, not specialists, especially specialists in management!
Uncle Ira
4.3 / 5 (11) Dec 29, 2015
Hurrah. We need well-rounded scientists to make the decisions which affect the other parts of our lives.


What glam-Skippy? You see "nuclear" in the title and thought it was about your favor boogie man? It's the particle accelerator she is in charge. Nothing that has any thing to do with you.

I get a lot of nonsense from otto and those who are scared of experience, but multi-skilled generalists are what we need for management, not specialists, especially specialists in management!


Well that is a good theory. But somebody who actually read the article would think it is kind of, well, kind of stupid to say. She is a specialist, a nuclear physicist. Unless you you think music and art are skills she will be using to decorate the place and entertain the workers.

Cher you sure of fond of putting out more nonsense than Otto-Skippy, and you are not afraid of looking like a couyon by throwing out you Palinisms. She don't read the articles either.
OdinsAcolyte
5 / 5 (6) Dec 29, 2015
Good luck with that...
Congratulations Mme. Gianotti
OdinsAcolyte
5 / 5 (1) Dec 29, 2015
Good luck with that...
Congratulations Mme. Gianotti
gkam
1.6 / 5 (7) Dec 29, 2015
I didn't expect you to understand it, Ira. There is a big world outside the delta.
AGreatWhopper
2.6 / 5 (5) Dec 29, 2015
Comes off more trying to be Atchafalaya Basin or Livingston Parish than Delta. Seems a bit canned. I think I could write a better lex script. Above I think a typical coonass would probably have addressed you as Ti G.
Uncle Ira
3.9 / 5 (7) Dec 29, 2015
Comes off more trying to be Atchafalaya Basin or Livingston Parish than Delta. Seems a bit canned. I think I could write a better lex script. Above I think a typical coonass would probably have addressed you as Ti G.


@ Whopper-Skippy. How you are Cher? glam-Skippy was closer than you but he still was off a little, I am from Lafourche Parish about half the way from Port Fourchon going to Galliano.
Uncle Ira
4 / 5 (8) Dec 29, 2015
I didn't expect you to understand it, Ira.


Well I supposed you got surprised then Cher, eh? Or maybe you would hope nobody would understand that you must not have read the article all the way through. How else could you have gotten the idea that she is the generalist scientist-Skippette instead of the specialist of physics science-Skippette that she is? But I am sure all the other scientists are going to enjoy her playing music for them while they word doing their science stuffs.

There is a big world outside the delta.


Hooyeei, you finally say something that is mostly right. Keep up the good work and maybe you can find some other things that are true too.
baudrunner
1 / 5 (1) Dec 31, 2015
Thanks, Uncle. I just got the concept - palinisms, just more ado about nothing..
gkam
1 / 5 (5) Dec 31, 2015
Nothing understood by Ira, apparently. My comments were on track, and valid. We need more generalists to manage specialties and specialists. Often those with their noses to grindstones and minds on their work miss things just out of sight. Those with narrow specialties are especially subject to losing sight of the big picture or the integration of their work with reality.
Uncle Ira
4.3 / 5 (6) Dec 31, 2015
We need more generalists to manage specialties and specialists.


That is a really good theory Cher. Except for one thing, not a big thing, but just something I hope you can explain. This lady is not a generalist. She is a specialist, nuclear physics is her specialty. She got a music degree 35 years ago, but other than that, all she has ever done is nuclear and particle physics. So the problem with your theory is that you didn't read all that before you put up your Palin type slogan. SHE IS A SPECIALIST. SHE HAS NOT DONE ANY OTHER KIND OF SCIENCE STUFFS TO BE CALLED A GENERALIST.

So as good as your theory might be Cher, it is still a bunch of empty words you flung out before you read the articles and now struggling on finding a way to walk them back.

Those with narrow specialties are especially subject to losing sight of the big picture.


So then Skippy. You think she is the wrong person for the job, CERN has been her only job.
gkam
4.3 / 5 (6) Dec 31, 2015
Happy New Year.
Uncle Ira
5 / 5 (6) Dec 31, 2015
Happy New Year.


And to you too podna. Bonheur, joie et paix pour vous aussi.
tblakely1357
1 / 5 (2) Jan 01, 2016
Why do I get a feeling that science is going to take a back seat to 'fairness' policies at Cern?
baudrunner
1 / 5 (1) Jan 01, 2016
Why do I get a feeling that science is going to take a back seat to 'fairness' policies at Cern?
Be careful what you make up. She could sue you for that.
baudrunner
3 / 5 (2) Jan 01, 2016
Created in 1954, CERN has become a think tank where gray matter meets matter, and most recently, is focusing on a quest to explain dark matter—the unexplained mass that makes up 25 percent of the universe but sits outside the standard model.
Oh, it's twenty-five percent now? Now I'm really sitting comfortably on the fact that Helium is more likely to be the candidate for dark matter, because it makes up twenty-four percent of the universe.

I wonder if Fabiola understands how light propagation really works, and what really causes objects to have mass. I'd like to know what she thinks.

You know, if it weren't for the presence of Helium, we might not even be able to see anything out there at all, because we'd be overwhelmed by the light.
TechnoCreed
5 / 5 (4) Jan 01, 2016
Happy New Year.

And to you too podna. Bonheur, joie et paix pour vous aussi.

It is no surprise to witness such magnanimity on your behalf. Ira, you are a pillar of sanity of the Physorg community and amongst the few that makes it worthwhile to spend some time reading and commenting here. Bonne année mon vieux. May 2016 be a wonderful year for peace and science.
Hyperfuzzy
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 01, 2016
Hope she understands that an optical connector fault rarely produces a delay but only a loss of gain or no signal at all. Does she have the chops for calibration and setup where an experiment was run with a rare phenomenon of a delay caused by an optical connector that disproved faster than light? I still want to know what kind of flaw this would be. Maybe a visible adapter greater than a quarter meter plugged into the connector! Or does she know the science is wrong? I'm only talking about 1 nano-second and a fiber with 80% to 100% transmission speed. But I'm guessing these guys don't even know what they are doing if they accept a delay this large as an excuse for a failed experiment; let alone a larger delay! juz say'n
Hyperfuzzy
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 01, 2016
A lens like media with good signal and a delay. This is new science!
Vietvet
4.2 / 5 (5) Jan 01, 2016
For anyone who thinks Fabiola Gianotti doesn't have the chops:

"Dr Gianotti is the author or co-author of more than 500 publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals. She has given more than 30 invited plenary talks at the major international conferences in the field. A list of her scientific publications is recorded in the database Inspire HEP ."

"Dr Gianotti was included among the "Top 100 most inspirational women" by The Guardian newspaper (UK, 2011),[12] ranked 5th in Time magazine's Personality of the Year (USA, 2012),[13] included among the "Top 100 most influential women" by Forbes magazine (USA, 2013)[14] and considered among the "Leading Global Thinkers of 2013" by Foreign Policy magazine (USA, 2013).[15"

https://en.wikipe...Gianotti

TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Jan 02, 2016
Happy New Year.
You think this'll be the last one you recognize?
baudrunner
1 / 5 (2) Jan 02, 2016
Fabiola Gianotti, in an interview after her Atlas team discovered the Higgs back in '12, said,
without General Relativity our Gps instruments would not work
..which is not entirely right, because she should have said something like, "without General Relativity our Gps instruments would have worked, before we had to adapt the GPS satellites' onboard clocks to accommodate it."

here's the interview, by the way.. https://www.resea...ianotti/

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