Fabiola Gianotti, first woman head of CERN

Fabiola Gianotti, first woman head of CERN
Photo: ATLAS Experiment © 2011 CERN
Fabiola Gianotti

Meet Fabiola Gianotti. On 1st January 2016 Fabiola became the first female Director-General of CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research).

You may have first heard of her back in 2012 when she announced the discovery of the elementary particle Higgs boson.


Let’s just say that the Large Hadron Collider accelerated her into the spotlight, showcasing her achievements on CNN, The New York Times, The Guardian and even on the cover of TIME Magazine.

Dr. Gianotti had quite the career before she joined CERN.

But it all started when she was a child, with her father, a geologist.  She told the Financial Times in 2013 that she remembered “Long walks in the mountains [with her father], where we stopped at every step to admire a little plant or a little butterfly.”


Her love of nature grew into a curiosity of all things.

As she grew older, Gianotti began to follow in her mother’s artistic footsteps, studying dance, literature, ancient Latin and Greek and especially music.  She spent some time studying piano at the Milan Conservatory, and still plays to this day.


After all, as she has said in many an interview, art and physics go hand-in-hand.

Her initial studies as an adult started with philosophy before switching to physics, even though she never excelled at mathematics when she was younger. As she told TIME in 2012, “I thought that physics would allow me to address questions in a more practical way…being able to give me answers.”


She joined CERN in the late 80’s after receiving her Ph.D. in  Experimental Particle Physics.  She kept asking questions…and pursuing answers on numerous projects which eventually led her to ATLAS. ATLAS is one of many experiments at CERN that focuses on observing and detecting elementary particles.  It was here where she worked with a team of thousands to eventually discover the Higgs boson.


In 2012 she was selected as the spokeswoman to present the team’s findings alongside Peter Higgs himself, the man who first theorized about the particle fifty years prior.

READ MORE: Decoding Women: Why Women Don’t Code And Why They Should

Her dedication, passion and creative intuition has made her a major role model in the STEM community, especially for young girls. This is essential during a time where women represent less than a quarter of physicists receiving degrees in the US (including Bachelor’s, Doctorate and Post-Doctorate). Taking a broader view, only around 28% of all persons employed in research and development in the world are women.

Gianotti recognizes that young girls find inspiration in successful leaders in the STEM field.  Now, as director general, she’s ready to motivate her team and the next generation of scientists.  We’re sure she’s determined to never lose the childlike quality of asking, “why?”

“Touch a scientist, and you touch a child” – Ray Bradbury, Gianotti’s favorite quote, as she told the My Hero Project in 2015

AUTHOR: Holly Stanton

Holly is an illustrator and creator based in Colorado. When she isn’t telling stories she likes to experience them, usually by reading with her toddler son or playing games with her friends.


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