Leadership in Science

New Director General For CERN


Fabiola Gianotti, first woman to hold the position of CERN director general.

This morning Cern council selected Fabiola Gianotti as the organisation’s next director general. The appointment will be formalised at the December session of council, and Dr Gianotti’s mandate will begin on 1 January 2016 and run for a period of five years.

The decision was made rather quickly. Or, as the press release puts it: “Council rapidly converged in favour of Dr Gianotti.”

For the original CERN press release, click press releases.

“We were extremely impressed with all three candidates put forward by the search committee”, said president of council Agnieszka Zalewska. The current director general, Rolf Heuer, said:

“Fabiola Gianotti is an excellent choice to be my successor. It has been a pleasure to work with her for many years. I look forward to continuing to work with her through the transition year of 2015, and am confident that Cern will be in very good hands.”

Fabiola Gianotti:

“It is a great honour and responsibility for me to be selected as the next Cern director general following 15 outstanding predecessors. Cern is a centre of scientific excellence, and a source of pride and inspiration for physicists from all over the world. Cern is also a cradle for technology and innovation, a fount of knowledge and education, and a shining, concrete example of worldwide scientific cooperation and peace. It is the combination of these four assets that renders Cern so unique, a place that makes better scientists and better people. 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.”


Fabiola Gianotti, next head of CERN Photograph: Claudio Pasqua/Wikimedia

Gianotti, 52, a researcher at Cern near Geneva since she joined with a doctorate from the University of Milan in 1987, will replace Rolf Heuer, who steered the centre through the initially troubled launch of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The machine was primarily built to find the Higgs, a theoretical particle and related energy field that was thought to have made formation of the physical universe possible by converting matter into mass.

In the LHC, which is awaiting relaunch with twice the power in spring next year, elementary particles are smashed together at close to the speed of light, creating billions of tiny “big bangs” and their aftermaths. Gianotti in 2009 became project leader of the Atlas collaboration, one of two teams working separately to spot the Higgs in the LHC data. With her counterpart from the CMS team, she detailed the finding of the Higgs – named after the British physicist who predicted its existence in 1964 – before a global television audience in July 2012.

The discovery brought a Nobel prize in 2013 for Peter Higgs, the British theorist, and François Englert, a Belgian physicist working on the same idea with two colleagues in the early 1960s and who also posited the existence of the boson.

Gianotti, an accomplished pianist who once considered a career in music, said she was honoured to be named to head the sprawling institute – which links 10,000 scientists on site and around the world – along the Franco-Swiss border outside Geneva.

“Cern is a centre of scientific excellence and a source of pride and inspiration for physicists from all over the world, a cradle for technology and innovation, and a shining concrete example of scientific cooperation and peace,” she said.

When collisions in the LHC are resumed, scientists look for evidence to resolve other major scientific questions, including the dark matter thought to make up about a quarter of the universe, and dark energy, accounting for 70%.

Fabiola Gianotti is a member of many international committees, and has received many prestigious awards. She will be the first woman to hold the position of Cern director general.

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