Ranked among the 7 most influential women in science and medicine in British newspaper The Guardian in 2011, 50-year-old Fabiola Gianotti has been in charge of a 3,000-strong team working on the Large Hadron Collider's (LHC's) five-storey ATLAS detector since 2009.
The native Italian was drawn to physics following an education steeped in literature, art and philosophy, because science provided a "more practical way of addressing the fundamental questions of why things are the way they are." Inspired by the achievements of Nobel Prize laureate and fellow countryman Carlo Rubbia (W and Z bosons), Gianotti did her PhD at the University of Milano working on a CERN experiment in the late 1980s, before securing a two-year fellowship at the particle physics laboratory in 1994. The rest, as they say, is history.
Eighteen years later, Gianotti was one of seven recipients of the USD 3 million Fundamental Physics Prize, which was awarded on 18 December 2012 to honour her contribution to a milestone discovery in particle physics--the discovery of a new particle that resembled the Higgs boson. The Higgs, the particle that gives mass to elementary particles, lies at the heart of currently-accepted theories about the structure of the universe, but had remained notoriously elusive since its prediction in the 1960s. The discovery, which was announced to the world on 4 July 2012, sparked an unequalled frenzy well beyond the realms of physics (dubbed 'Higgs-teria').
"We are constantly being told that society is becoming increasingly superficial, but it really isn't true. Knowledge is amongst the...