Italian physicist Fabiola Gianotti made history this week after being chosen to be the first female director-general of the CERN physics center. The 52-year-old, who rose to fame in 2012 after announcing the discovery of the long-sought "Higgs boson" or "God particle," has worked as a researcher at CERN since 1987.
"CERN is a centre of scientific excellence and a source of pride and inspiration for physicists from all over the world, a cradle for technology and innovation, and a shining concrete example of scientific cooperation and peace," she said in a statement. "It is the combination of these four assets that renders CERN so unique, a place that makes better scientists and better people. I will fully engage myself to maintain CERN’s excellence in all its attributes, with the help of everybody, including CERN Council, staff and users from all over the world."
Gianotti's rise to lead one of the top global scientific institutions in the world was not always a role she saw in her future. Her initial education in Milan focused on literature, art history, ancient languages and music, the latter inspiring her to pursue a possible career in piano performance at the Milan Conservatory. But the big questions raised by her studies moved her to find answers through other disciplines.
“I thought that physics, the little bit I knew of it, would allow me to address those questions in a more practical way,” she says. “I mean, being able to give answers.”
At age 25, with a PhD in particle physics from the University of Milan, Gianotti joined CERN where the Large Hadron Collider is housed. In 2009, she became project leader of the Atlas collaboration, one of two teams working separately to find the Higgs in the collider data. As the group's spokesperson and coordinator, Gianotti had the honor of announcing the discovery of the elusive particle on July 4, 2012. As a result of the discovery, the Nobel Prize was awarded to François Englert and Peter Higgs in 2013.
“It’s not only a great scientific endeavor but a unique human adventure,” she told Time magazine in 2012. “Working with so many people from all over the world is extremely enriching and stimulating.”
As part of her new role, Gianotti not only intends to spearhead new discoveries using CERN's 16.7 mile-long Large Hadron Collider, but also promote the sciences as something that can be harmonized with the arts.
"Art and physics are much closer than you would think," she told MyHero.com "Art is based on very clear, mathematical principles like proportion and harmony. At the same time, physicists need to be inventive, to have ideas, to have some fantasy."
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