News from the Frontiers of Cosmology: A companion to the book The Edge of Physics
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Large Hadron Collider to run on women power

Women at CERN

women at cern. image courtesy cern

On Monday, 8 March, CERN, the particle physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland — the home of the Large Hadron Collider – will be handing over controls of the facility to women to mark International Women’s Day.

According to CERN’s Pauline Gagnon, all the control rooms for accelerators and experiments, including those of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the ATLAS and CMS detectors, will primarily be staffed by woman.

Gagnon came up with the idea to highlight the fact that women have claimed their share of the space in physics, contrary to conventional wisdom.

On the day, live video will be available at

Last year, Fabiola Gianotti took over as spokesperson for the ATLAS experiment, which is looking for the Higgs boson among other things. Gianotti is one of the physicists featured in The Edge of Physics.  Some excerpts from Chapter 9: The Heart of the Matter:

  • Physics wasn’t Gianotti’s first love. “I came to physics from very far away,” she told me.  “When I was a young girl, I loved art and music. I had been studying piano quite seriously at a conservatory and had taken courses in high school targeted towards literature, languages like ancient Greek and Latin, philosophy, and history of art. I loved these subjects, but I was also a very curious little girl. I was fascinated by the big questions. Why are things the way they are? This possibility of answering fundamental questions has always attracted me—my mind, my spirit, everything.”
  • She stumbled upon physics soon afterward. “I discovered that physics is really interested in the most fundamental questions,” she said.
  • More than philosophy?
  • “Even more,” she said, speaking slowly to emphasize each syllable. “Because experimental physics is based on facts. It is answering fundamental questions—not just giving an answer to your question by inventing something, but proving it. This is very, very nice.”
  • This was no theorist talking. Here was someone who got down-and-dirty with instruments. These concepts—supersymmetry, dark matter, the Higgs, extra dimensions—were not mere equations to her but ideas that left traces in her instruments, whether in the form of streaking jets of particles or in some anomalous measurement of momentum or energy.
  • The LHC and ATLAS could uncover some deep truths about the universe. Gianotti confessed to “feelings of excitement and the awareness of being close to something very important and great for humankind.” She quoted the thirteenth-century Italian poet Dante Alighieri: Fatto non foste a viver come bruti ma per seguir virtute et conoscenza (“We were created not to live as animals but to pursue virtue and knowledge.”) “As human beings, the pursuit of fundamental research and knowledge is a need for us, which separates us from animals or vegetables. It is like the need for art,” said Gianotti.

The Edge of Physics


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