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Italian particle physicist and CERN Director-General
Fabiola Gianotti (Italian: [fa'bi:ola d?a'n?tti]; born 29 October 1960) is an Italian experimental particle physicist, and the first woman to be Director-General at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Switzerland. Her mandate began on 1 January 2016 and runs for a period of five years. At its 195th Session in 2019, the CERN Council selected Gianotti for an unprecedented second term as Director-General. Her second five-year term began on 1 January 2021 and go on until 2025. This is the first time in CERN's history that a Director-General has been appointed for a full second term.
Early life and education
From an early age, Gianotti was interested in nature and the world around her. Her mother, from Sicily, encouraged Gianotti in the fine arts. Her father, an acclaimed geologist from Piedmont, encouraged her early love of learning and encouraged her scientific interests.
Since 1996, Gianotti has worked at CERN, starting with a fellowship and continuing to become a full-time research physicist. In 2009 she was promoted to project leader and Spokesperson of the ATLAS Collaboration. She also worked on the WA70, UA2 and ALEPH experiments at CERN, where she was involved in detector development, software development and data analysis. In 2016 she was elected to be the first female Director-General of CERN. She has since been reappointed for a second term, which will end in 2025.
She has been a member of several international committees, such as the Scientific Council of the CNRS in France, the Physics Advisory Committee of Fermilab in the USA, the Council of the European Physical Society, the Scientific Council of the DESY Laboratory in Germany, and the Scientific Advisory Committee of NIKHEF in the Netherlands. She is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the UN Secretary-General. She was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) in 2018.
During Gianotti's time as Spokesperson of ATLAS, the experiment was one of two involved in the observation of the Higgs boson. On 4 July 2012 Gianotti announced the discovery of the particle. Until the observation, the Higgs boson was a purely theoretical part of the Standard Model of particle physics. Gianotti's deep understanding of the ATLAS experiment, and her leadership, were recognised as major factors in the discovery.
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.
Some of her most notable publications include "Observation of a New Particle in the Search for the Standard Model Higgs Boson with the ATLAS Detector at the LHC", where CERN presented the Higgs boson observation, "Searches for supersymmetry at high-energy colliders: the past, the present and the present and the future" in the IOP Science, New Journal of Physics, and "Calorimetry for particle physics" in the APS Physics Journal.
Gianotti had to push past barriers to be successful in a male dominated field. In the European scientific community, for every one woman, there are two men. Only 20% of the team that worked on the ATLAS project were women. Gianotti was the first female Director-General of CERN, and she led two of the largest CERN experiments in 2012. She insists that she has never faced discrimination because of her gender, saying "I cannot say myself that I ever felt discriminated against ... Perhaps I was but I didn't realize it." Gianotti is helping break down barriers the male-dominated field created for aspiring female scientists. She specifically wants to give women more support when having children. She feels that she was never given enough support, and for this reason, never had children, a decision she now regrets.
Honours and awards
Gianotti was included among the "Top 100 most inspirational women" by The Guardian newspaper in 2011, ranked 5th in Time magazine's Personality of the Year in 2012, was the runner-up for Time magazine's Person of the Year in the same year, was included among the "Top 100 most influential women" by Forbes magazine in 2013, and was considered among the "Leading Global Thinkers of 2013" by Foreign Policy magazine in 2013.
When CERN announced the discovery of the Higgs boson, some controversy sprang from Gianotti's use of the Comic Sans typeface in the presentation of the results. Alby Reid, a physicist, started an online petition calling for Microsoft to change the name of the font to Comic Cerns.Vincent Connare, the font's creator, tweeted support for the petition. Gianotti had used Comic Sans in previous presentations, but the controversy was generated due to the importance of the material presented.
Gianotti is a trained ballerina and plays the piano. She has never been married; in a New York Times profile on Gianotti, the Dutch physicist Rende Steerenberg described her as someone who "has dedicated her life to physics...sure, she has made sacrifices."
In a 2010 interview, Gianotti said that she saw no contradiction between science and faith, and that they belong to "two different spheres". In an interview by la Repubblica, she said that "science and religion are separate disciplines, though not antithetical. You can be a physicist and have faith or not."
^Castelvecchi, Davide (2014). "Higgs hunter will be CERN's first female director: Italian physicist Fabiola Gianotti will take the reins at the European physics powerhouse in 2016". Nature. doi:10.1038/nature.2014.16287. S2CID124442791.