Thursday, February 29, 2024

Fabiola Gianotti: The Goddess of Particles

It takes a special kind of madness or brilliance in finding the fingerprints of the gods in the particles captured by The Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Read about this Italian experimental physicist and the Director General of CERN who just happened to be a woman.

Originally featured in Passions, Vol. 46, this article has been adapted for the digital realm and is now available exclusively on VOICE OF ASIA.

For the better part of a century, scientists have been trying to uncover the secrets of the Universe. But it took one woman, Fabiola Gianotti, managing 3000 scientists at the greatest research facility to have been built by physicists, to finally crack the mystery.

In July 2013, Gianotti and her team announced that they had indeed captured the Higgs, a particle which gives other fundamental particles their mass, thereby completing the standard model of physics that ties together three great forces of the universe – the strong force, the weak force, and electromagnetism, which is why it is sometimes called ‘the God particle.’

This announcement received broad media coverage and stirred up a global sensation, usually not seen stemming from a scientific discovery. It was Gianotti who received the most attention, undoubtedly due to her inherent talent and admirable leadership skills.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), where Gianotti works, and where she made the Higgs discovery, straddles the Swiss-French border, and is the culmination of nearly 25 years of effort by scientists worldwide. The machine accelerates protons to near light speeds and then crashes them together at enormously high energies. The resulting sub-atomic debris contains the Higgs and other secrets of the way the universe works.

Gianotti has considerable responsibilities, supervising the daily progress of the experiment and the operation of the 7,000 ton machine, as well as budgeting and other mundane issues that invariably become part of such an enormous project.

Initially an art student, who was drawn to Physics due to its fundamental nature, Gianotti has become a role-model for many high-school students, most often girls, who send her e-mails recounting how they have been inspired by her work and her rise to being the spokesperson of one of the world’s biggest scientific experiments.

Fabiola Gianotti has changed the world of particle physics as we know it, and has made an undeniable contribution to mankind and the scientific community. For her brilliance, her tenacity and her dedication to science, PASSIONS salutes this incredible physicist.

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