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Fabiola Gianotti, CERN: "95% of the universe is unknown to us."


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Fabiola Gianotti, CERN: "95% of the universe is unknown to us."

Studying the infinitely small in order to understand the infinitely big – that’s the goal of researchers at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Geneva.

In this episode of the Global Conversation, we will try to understand how far the boundaries of knowledge can go with Fabiola Gianotti, Director-General of CERN.

Claudio Rosmino, Euronews:

“Fabiola Gianotti, welcome to the Global Conversation. In recent days, the particle accelerator’s activity was restarted following months of technical breakdown. Can you tell us how this huge machine, which investigates the mysteries surrounding the matter that makes up our universe, works?”

Fabiola Gianotti, Director-General CERN:

“The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the most powerful accelerator ever built by man. It allows us to launch proton beams in opposite directions within a 27 kilometre-ring where they collide in four points, where four large detectors are installed.

“Thanks to these collisions, we are able to study the fundamental elements of matter and of the universe, and to better understand the fundamentals in nature and the structure and the evolution of the universe.”

Claudio Rosmino, Euronews:

“Today, the LHC is more powerful than when the Higgs boson was discovered. What are your scientific goals? What do you hope to discover?”

Fabiola Gianotti, CERN:

“For example, we would like to better understand what the so-called ‘dark side’ of the universe is made of. In fact, what is visible when we look at stars, planets and galaxies only represents 5% of the universe. The other 95% is made up of matter and energy that we do not know. This is a big question mark for us and that is why we call it ‘dark’ matter and energy. These dark forms of matter and energy do not directly interact with our instruments, such as telescopes for example. We deduct their presence from indirect observations and evidence.”

Claudio Rosmino, Euronews:

“You have been Director-General of CERN since January 2016. How has your first year and a half been? In one interview, you said it was like being the mayor of a small village…”

Fabiola Gianotti, CERN:

“It is an enriching and stimulating job that has many different sides to it. There is the scientific side, which is, of course, my priority and takes most of my time: managing scientific projects, planning the future. But there are also other aspects like dealing with the budget, the staff, international relations… So it is an enriching and varied job, and what I appreciate most is that I’m learning something every day. In my opinion there is nothing more rewarding than coming home at night and saying: ‘Look at what I learned today.’”

Claudio Rosmino, Euronews:

“Let’s look back to July 4th, 2012, when CERN told the world about the discovery of the Higgs boson, which is critical to understanding the origin of the mass of particles. What are your memories of that day? How did you feel?”

Fabiola Gianotti, CERN:

“Clearly, it was a very beautiful day, professionally, perhaps the most exciting day of my life. That day I was representing a community of physicists from all over the world, but also many young people who had worked with enthusiasm and dedication both to build our machine and then to analyze the data, so I was proud of being able to say: ‘Today we have contributed to helping progress our understanding of humanity one small step forward’. It was very beautiful and moving.”

Claudio Rosmino, Euronews:

“Thanks to this amazing machine, the LHC, are you any closer to understanding the Big Bang?"

Fabiola Gianotti, CERN:

“We are closer to understanding the characteristics and evolution of the universe in the instants close to the Big Bang. We know what happened a millionth of a millionth of a second after the Big Bang. It seems like nothing, but in fact a lot happened before that. We are still far from understanding what really happened at the exact moment of the Big Bang – there are various hypotheses – but we have made important progress in understanding what happened in the early phases of the universe’s evolution.”

Claudio Rosmino, Euronews:

“What do you think of scientific research in Europe? Are there enough opportunities for young researchers?”

Fabiola Gianotti, CERN:

“Generally speaking, there are problems securing funds for fundamental research, which are more or less serious depending on the country. Applied research tends to get funding more easily as it yields short-term results. Of course, it is important to fund applied research, but we must not forget that fundamental research is equally important, even though results cannot be seen immediately, but in the long term.”

Claudio Rosmino, Euronews:

“Einstein said: ‘Logic will take you from A to B, imagination will take you everywhere’. What role do fantasy and passion play in the work of a scientist?”

Fabiola Gianotti, CERN:

“They are fundamental. Science and research are based on ideas and creativity. Ideas, creativity, imagination are fundamental, but you also need great dedication to put these ideas into practice. Passion, motivation, creativity are fundamental to what we do here.”

Claudio Rosmino, Euronews:

“Passion and fantasy is what dreams are made of. What were your dreams as a child ? When did you realize you wanted become a scientist ?”

Fabiola Gianotti, CERN:

“When I was a small child I had exotic dreams – there was a time when I was studying classical dance and I wanted to become a dancer. Then I studied the piano and was thinking of a career as a musician. Music still holds a very important place in my life. I was a very curious child and I always asked a lot of questions. Then, through my physics and math classes in high school, I found that working in the field of physics – which is perhaps the most fundamental of all sciences – would allow me to satisfy this curiosity.”

Claudio Rosmino, Euronews:

“Here at CERN you are surrounded by highly elaborate machines, but what is your relationship to technology in your everyday life?”

Fabiola Gianotti, CERN:

“I use it as a tool to makes my life easier and more enjoyable. But there is also a negative impact on our everyday life: sometimes technology turns us into slaves – nowadays, we always have to be accessible by phone, email, sms etc… So, you have to be careful not to let innovation take over and not to become addicted.”

Claudio Rosmino, Euronews:

“Thank you.”

Fabiola Gianotti, CERN:

“Thank you.”

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