A true treasure: Agnieszka Zalewska.

Position:People: insider

On 1 January 2013, Agnieszka Zalewska, Professor at the H. Niewodniczanski Institute of High Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences, took over the reins from Michel Spiro to become the 21st President of CERN Council, the governing body of the laboratory. The experimental particle physicist is the first woman--and first representative from a non-founding member state--to have been entrusted with this prestigious mandate (which lasts for one year and is renewable twice). "I consider my new role a great honour and an even greater responsibility," explains Zalewska. "I believe this to be a sign of appreciation of the work of particle physicists in Poland, who worked with CERN long before the country became a member in 1991 [following its transition from a communist state to a parliamentary democracy]. For me, too, CERN is the most important institution in my life--it is a true treasure."

Born in Krakow in 1948, Zalewska was attracted to physics from a young age because of "its ability to explain phenomena around [her]." Her professional association with CERN dates back to the early 1970s when she analysed data from bubble chamber at the Proton Synchrotron for her PhD at the Jagiellonian University. "Poland was fairly closed at the time and CERN gave me the opportunity to work with real data. It was a window to the world of great physics," she remembers. She moved to Geneva for the first time in 1975 to volunteer for another experiment on the Proton Synchrotron, while her husband Kacper Zalewski (a particle physicist theorist) took on an 'associateship' at the laboratory.

Some 40 years down the line, the mother of four now is a distinguished particle physicist, whose career has taken her from pioneering work on silicon vertex detectors with microelectronics (DELPHI experiment) to the "fascinating field" of neutrino physics (ICAURS and T2K experiments). Adding up all the individual stints, she has spent the "equivalent of six full years at...

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