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James Doherty | Open University | United Kingdom

View Blog | Read Bio

CERN appoints new Director-General

During November CERN’s Council chose Fabiola Gianotti to be the organisation’s 16th Director-General. She will take over from the current incumbent, Rolfe Heuer, on 1 January 2016 and will serve for five years.

A spokesperson for CERN’s Council stated:

“It was Dr Gianotti’s vision for CERN’s future as a world leading accelerator laboratory, coupled with her in-depth knowledge of both CERN and the field of experimental particle physics that led us to this outcome.”

CERN’s current Director General declared that:

“Fabiola Gianotti is an excellent choice to be my successor… [I] am confident that CERN will be in very good hands.”

And Gianotti herself proclaimed:

“It is a great honour and responsibility for me to be selected as the next CERN Director-General following 15 outstanding predecessors… 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.”

Dr. Gianotti poses with the ATLAS experiment.

Dr. Gianotti poses with the ATLAS experiment. (Image credit: Claudia Marcelloni)

Dr. Gianotti hails from Italy and holds a PhD in experimental particle physics from the University of Milan. She joined CERN in 1987 and worked on various experiments including the UA2 experiment and ALEPH, a detector for the Large Electron-Positron Collider (the LHC’s predecessor). She went on to join the ATLAS experiment, for which she was leader from March 2009 to February 2013. In July 2012 she, along with a spokesperson from the CMS experiment, announced that ATLAS and CMS had observed a ‘Higgs-like particle’. The discovery of the Higgs boson was subsequently confirmed and, as a result, Peter Higgs and Francois Englert were awarded the Nobel prize for physics in December 2013. (See here).

While she is no doubt a talented physicist, Gianotti has other strings to her bow. For example, she is an accomplished pianist who once considered a career in music. She also possesses a hint of mischief: having caused quite a stir for using the comic sans font in her slideshow presentation when announcing ATLAS’s observation of the Higgs (not serious enough apparently), she went on to announce this year that CERN would be adopting comic sans as its official font! – it was April 1st. (See this post from Rob Knoops for more.)

Being CERN’s big cheese is a tough gig but Gianotti seems qualified, experienced, able and passionate enough to be a great Director-General. It is also highly refreshing to see a female appointed to the highest profile physics office in the world.

From the Quantum Diarists, good luck Fabiola!