Fabiola Gianotti is the Director-General of CERN, the world's largest particle physics laboratory, and the first woman to lead this unique international organization. She’s a trained ballerina, plays the piano, and initially studied humanities. However, since 1994 she has dedicated her life to exploring the frontiers of particle physics. As spokeperson for the ATLAS experiment, Fabiola presented the results confirming that CERN had detected the long-sought Higgs boson, work that resulted in the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics. But as she told Alan in a conversation held outside amid giant old detectors, work at CERN “is not only a scientific adventure but also a human adventure, because when you have to work with many people, you have to respect everyone. You have to be tolerant.”
Fabiola Gianotti is Director-General of CERN, the largest particle physics laboratory in the world. The acronym comes from the French Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, translated as “The European Organization for Nuclear Research.” On January 1st. 2016 she became the first female Director-General of CERN, and in 2019, she was renewed for a second term of office starting on January 1st. 2021.
Dr. Gianotti was born in Italy in 1960. 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 her scientific interests. Gianotti found her passion for scientific research after reading a biography of Marie Curie. Previously, she had studied the humanities, focusing on music and philosophy at the Liceo Classico. She received her Ph.D. in experimental particle physics from the University of Milan in 1989. Since 1994 she has been a research physicist at CERN and, since August 2013, an honorary Professor at the University of Edinburgh. Dr. Gianotti has worked on several CERN experiments and has been involved in detector R&D, construction, software development, and data analysis. From 2009 to 2013, she held the elected position of spokesperson (project leader) for the ATLAS experiment and presented the results of the Higgs boson discovery in a seminar at CERN on 4 July 2012. She is a corresponding or foreign associate member of the Italian Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, the French Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society, London, the Royal Academy of Sciences and the Arts of Barcelona, and the Royal Irish Academy.
She was included among the “Top 100 Most Inspirational Women” by The Guardian newspaper (UK, 2011), ranked 5th in Time magazine’s Personality of the Year (USA, 2012), and included among the “Top 100 Most Influential Women” by Forbes magazine (USA, 2013 and 2017).
In a profile on Gianotti in The New York Times, the Dutch physicist Rende Steerenberg described her as someone who “has dedicated her life to physics.” 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, “science and religion are separate disciplines, though not antithetical. You can be a physicist and have faith or not.”
Gianotti has authored or co-authored over 500 publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals. She has also been a member of several international scientific committees, including the Scientific Council of the CNRS (France), the Physics Advisory Committee of the Fermilab Laboratory (USA), the Scientific Council of the DESY Laboratory (Germany), and the Scientific Advisory Committee of NIKHEF (Netherlands). She was also a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the UN Secretary-General.
Gianotti was awarded the honor of “Cavaliere di Gran Croce dell’ordine al merito della Repubblica” in 2014 by the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano. She received the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics Prize (2013), the Enrico Fermi Prize of the Italian Physical Society (2013), the Medal of Honor of the Niels Bohr Institute of Copenhagen (2013), and the Tate Medal of the American Institute of Physics for International Leadership (2019).