Fabiola Gianotti, the Italian physicist who led the discovery of a new boson, or “God particle,” is set to make history again. She will be the first woman to direct CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, when its current director-general, Rolf Heuer, steps down, the CERN council announced Tuesday.
Gianotti first captured a global audience in 2012 for leading one of the two research teams that revealed physics’ most elusive particle: the Higgs boson particle, or "God particle.” Gianotti will lead the laboratory in Geneva, which houses the Large Hadron Collider -- the machine that was used to finally produce and detect the long-sought subatomic particle.
“It was Dr. Gianotti’s vision for CERN’s future as a world-leading accelerator laboratory, couples with her in-depth knowledge of both CERN and the field of experimental particle physics, that led us to this outcome,” said CERN’s President of Council Agnieszka Zalewska at a press conference Tuesday.
The LHC has been down for repairs but researchers will fire it up next March in search for more clues behind the nature of the Higgs boson and other mysteries, like dark matter, a hypothetical substance believed to make up most of the material universe.
The long-awaited discovery of the Higgs boson was recognized by the awarding of the Nobel Prize to Francois Englert and Peter Higgs in 2013. Researchers first detected the Higgs boson when firing streams of protons through the LHC, which is the world’s largest particle accelerator and requires a staff of more than 10,000 just to stay afloat. According to Forbes, finding the Higgs boson ran about $13.25 billion. The LHC is a government project jointly funded by CERN member countries, with additional money for experiments coming from CERN and private research organizations. The facility took 10 years and about $4.75 billion to construct.
Finding the Higgs boson added further evidence of the validity to the Standard Model, which has been a cornerstone of particle physics for decades. The Standard Model says that the Higgs boson is the reason that some particles -- and the atoms of which they are made -- have any mass at all, and why photons do not. Without the “God particle,” however, that whole edifice falls apart because the Standard Model would then fail to answer why particles have mass.
The Higgs boson is called the “God particle” after the title of a book by American physicist Leon Lederman, in part because it helps unify several branches of physics by proving the Standard Model.