Women @CERN

Chiara Bracco

Being a physicist in the 21st century is not bad at all. Especially if you work at CERN. This is the case with Chiara, who became a CERNie 15 years ago.

She is delighted with the place and time she is in, but, if it were possible, she would be interested in spending some time in the past when everything was still undiscovered. Also because at that time a physicist was involved in a whole experiment, learning from A to Z about a project, not just being a small part of it, and working glued to a computer.

Chiara, who was born in Biella, a small village in northern Italy, studied physics at the Università degli Studi di Milano. After her master’s thesis on applied superconductivity, she landed at CERN to do her PhD, which completely changed her career path: from superconductivity to accelerator physics.

Her first five years as a CERNie were in the collimation team. Then she moved to the accelerator beam transfer group, where she is still now. She is also responsible for WP14 of the HL-LHC project, but project management is not her favorite piece of work.

What Chiara really likes is the study part, the supervision and the collaboration. She enjoys working with the different engineers and other physicists. “Essentially, I like what I can learn from, and I do it in exchanges with my colleagues and also with my students”.

For Chiara, beauty is connected to nature. “Nature in general and, especially, everything that is enormous, such as mountains, icebergs, oceans…”. And nature is linked to her dreams as she would love to be a National Geographic photographer. To spend her time in the middle of nowhere, trying to take the best picture of an animal doing something special, unexpected.

In her novel, La strada che va in città, the Italian writer and activist, Natalia Ginzburg, wrote that “memory is loving and is never casual. It is rooted in our own lives and that is why its choice is never casual, but always passionate and imperative”. Chiara agrees partially because she still has hope that we have something completely random in our lives.

“I like to think that we have a little bit of serendipity that is taking us somewhere that is not yet defined”. Because there are still many places waiting to be discovered. And many questions looking forward to having an answer.

Because, after all, it is not so bad to be a physicist these days.

Women @CERN

Eva Gousiou

All Eva’s summers have the taste of an island in the Aegean Sea. Both her childhood and grown-up summers take place in Lesbos, the homeland of the archaic Greek poet, Sappho. But Eva, an electronics engineer focused on data transmission technologies, was born on the other shore of the Aegean.

Athens saw her grow. She studied information and communications technologies at its university, which was founded in 1837. Entering the workforce right after her studies was very important for Eva, who began working as a Seagate Technology intern in a large hard drives manufacturing plant in Thailand.

Later, she returned to Athens, where the cold coffees with friends last forever, and during which one can talk about everything and nothing. Almost like the Greek philosophers did a few centuries ago. But Eva still desired to explore the world, and so she became a CERNie.

She still remembers her beginning because it was just before the first start-up of the LHC. “We were working for the commissioning of the cryogenic instrumentation and it was a very hectic period”. Eva remembers it as a cocktail of emotions: hopes, anticipation, stress, motivation… “We were tired, but unstoppable”, she ensures.

She also fondly recalls a more recent phase. “After many years on electronics development, my team and I feel it would be valuable to go to the other side and become a user”. Eva is now a one-year detachment on the PSB-island and enjoys experiencing the operational side of what they have been developing. “Going to the CERN Control Centre (CCC), the place where everything happens, and working on beam operations there feels as exciting as those first years”, says Eva with emocion.

She is also currently working on data visualization, surrounded by graphics that, in addition to creating understanding and revealing relationships, are beautiful. She also finds beauty in the way  Woody Allen and Almodóvar paint their favourite cities, and it is the way they depict women friendships that she finds inspiring.

Eva dreams of more inclusive technologies. “Diversity of people means different approaches, explanations, ways of coding… I feel that this field, which is male-dominated, is losing a lot by excluding people”, says Eva, who is sometimes the only female in the room, and who is looking forward to having more female colleagues to work with.

She would also like to see more of what is called the democratization of the domain. Increasing the accessibility to electronic engineering, which will come from more open source hardware. But, how? “If we provide high-quality free and open source tools and the right libraries, as we have seen happen in software, there will be exponential development”.

And, as if that were not enough, she also wants more conscious developments that lead to greater modularity and reusability. “I think that instead of throwing away and replacing our devices, we could repair more often”, she states. “I hope that development policies will soon be more aware of what has a huge toll on the environment”.

Beyond her adventures at work, Eva enjoys her friendships, to which she always carves time for, and, above all, her three boys, who are her endless source of energy and support. Her particular island. The reason why home is here now.

Eva enjoys every day because, as the Greek poet Constantino Cavafis wrote in Ithaca, “hope your road is a long one / May there be many summer mornings when, / with what pleasure, what joy, / you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time”.

Women @CERN

Nuria Valverde

We could ask “ondas do mar de Vigo” when was the last time they saw our friend Nuria, a welding engineer currently working at CERN.

Nuria was born in the proletarian city of Vigo, located in the Galician Rias Baixas. She grew up with maritime sounds in the background: first, with the Atlantic Ocean and then, with the Cantabrian Sea. After having studied mechanical engineering at the University of Oviedo, Nuria began working in Gijón, where she also studied welding engineering.

She became a CERNie in January 2011 She worked here for five years as a project engineer following the internal manufacturing of superconducting cavities, controlling the quality of subcontracted parts and qualifying welders. In 2016, she left CERN to move to ITER, in southern France, for a year. Later, she returned to CERN.

Since then Nuria enjoys her multi-layered work. She has a wide overview of the High Luminosity LHC Project, of which she is a part. From the pieces’ fabrication, which is her favourite, to how the welding is going. She can also follow other activities such as testing or radio frequency, besides other more normal project activities, such as planning and budgeting. It is very enriching for her to get to know the different pieces that make up the project: the many Lego blocks that Hilumi is built with.

On her return to CERN, Nuria also came back to the Alps’ foot. In the nature of this area, sometimes French, sometimes Swiss, she meets beauty. It reminds her to love because, as she believes, “we can find beauty when we love something”. That is why some will find it in a sunset, others in a baby’s smile, and others even by the sea.

Although we are living problems, as the Spanish Philosopher María Zambrano said, knowing what will happen every day would be very boring. Nuria likes that unexpected side of life. She is not a big dreamer: it is enough to enjoy the day to day, to do things that fill you up and to try to be as happy as possible in any circumstance. But maybe, if she had to dream big, she would do it with her own house in Spain in front of the beach, to be able to greet the sea in the mornings.

For now, Nuria will continue to see, in addition to the different HL-LHC project’s steps, the seasons of this peculiar area and their colours: from the white of the snow that overhangs Mont Blanc, to the orange and yellow tones of an autumn on the Jura hill.

Women @CERN

Noemí Carabán Gonzalez

In 1979, one of the most important science-fiction films, Alien, was released. It was in that year that Noemí, a videographer and photographer at CERN, was born. Sometimes she feels a bit like an alien, but who does not? Who can be considered normal? Who among us does not belong to the outsider category?

In 2012, months before the world ended, the God Particle AKA the Higgs boson was discovered at CERN, which in media terms meant a big peak of attention. At that time, Noemí was living in Czech Republic, and she was going through the HR process to get this peculiar job.

Her transformation into a CERNie coincided with the Long Shutdown 1, when the CERN accelerator complex was stopped for almost two years to get a technical facelift. That gave her the opportunity to record everywhere along the accelerator chain, including the LHC and all the experiments. Watching those images in lots of different countries’ news made her feel like she was from another planet.

CERN has a public image repository which thanks to Women In Technology (WIT), a community that promotes equality, has recently been enlarged with pictures of women scientists. Noemí works together with WIT, creating audiovisual content to make their role known. Also, portraying those women in their workplaces. “The power of representation should not be underestimated. It is really important to see them”, remarks Noemí.

If beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, Noemí lives surrounded by it. As a CERNie she has witnessed very special moments, like that time, at CMS, when a worker with the helmet and the safety equipment was doing a sort of tai chi, 100 metres below ground. Very special moments to be recorded out of one’s memory.

After almost eight long and short years, at the end of this 2020 (that has been quite an alien year), her contract ends. Noemí has already assumed that finding a place like CERN, a scenario where the extraordinary breathes, borders on the impossible. But, as she says, “everything has its moment”. A film, a book, a song or a job.

She would like to continue creating audiovisual content and showing things that are there, in front of us, and that sometimes we do not see. She loves to pick up the exceptional of people, places and things, because she is convinced that we have more to learn from things that are extraordinary than from those we already know.

Wherever she goes, she will maintain her cultural references, change her favourites from time to time, and flatter the difference, and its need in these times.

She will zoom in this narrow normality.

Women @CERN

Mar Capeáns

That child has not dreamed of a tree hut, of building her own shelter? Mar, a Particle Physicist and the Upgrade Technical Coordinator of the CMS experiment, did not only fantasize about architecture as a child. Now she does it too, because “it is the architect’s dream to make the house. Not a house, but the house”, as the Spanish architect and Professor at UPM, Santiago de Molina, wrote.

Mar’s roots are in the Galician capital. Santiago de Compostela, the city of pilgrims and Albariño’s cuncas, hosts a university founded 525 years ago, at which Mar studied physics and got her PhD. From that chapter, she not only misses university life, but to have much more time to enjoy the magic of the city. To have that time that seems to be shortened when one becomes an adult.

After she graduated, she moved to Geneva, where she has already lived more years than in Spain. The reason? Mar is a woman greatly influenced by her work at CERN. She became a CERNie in 1992, as a student. In this part of the chain, the key was to learn and, above all, to learn from others, as CERN works in a very collaborative way.

“When you grow up a little bit, and you become a staff member, that same idea remains”, Mar ensures. Learning and collaborating to build and conduct great experiments is still a key piece, along with having more responsibilities.

There is also an added surprise: you start to be called to share your expertise. And most importantly, you get involved in thinking about the future of the organization, and also on the role you want to play in it.

Mar collaborates with the CERN Teacher Programmes. It is a part of her job that she really enjoys, as it is a pleasure to share time and knowledge with enthusiast teachers. When Mar talks with teachers from all over the world about particle detectors, she offers them a view from the battlefield. She is not only explaining how they function, but also what are the challenges and even the struggles they have to face when they designed them and built them.

CERNies like Mar, who work on hardware, building detectors, are lucky because they often have to invent technologies or combine technologies from many fields, and push them to their limits. To her, being a particle physicist is extremely connected to society and even more so today because technology is driving progress.

“É feliz o que soñando, morre. Desgraciado o que morra sen soñar”, wrote the Galician poet, Rosalía de Castro. Mar dreams of being able to accelerate the pace of discovery. She feels quite painful the fact of having to wait so long to know all the mysteries physicists are trying to solve. She would like to imagine that detectors could be built in much less time to speed up the remaining stages of the process.

Because of her other vocation, that “desexo que non acaba”, Mar would really like to be an architect to build the house, that house which, as the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard said, “holds the dream, protects the dreamer and allows us to dream in peace”.

But Mar is already an architect, an architect of science. It is not only what she has built in physics over the last more than 25 years of her career, but her commitment to help society by doing science.

Marie Curie thought that science has a great beauty because a scientist, like Mar, in her lab “is not only a technician: she is also a child placed before natural phenomena that impress her like a fairy tale”. And, who cannot be excited by discovering new particles, understanding better what we are, what the universe is made of… asks Mar. She is as captivated by trying to understand how something breaks, but also to try to understand how to put it back together. This is a little bit how they do detectors. The most exciting moments? When you get in trouble, because then you have to come up with innovative solutions.

But beauty goes beyond the labs. Mar finds it, of course, in architecture, because this discipline breathes at the intersection between aesthetics, mathematics and physics.As the last Bauhaus’ director, Mies van der Rohe, stated: less is more. Mar likes designs driven by simplicity because she finds their analogue in the best physics theories, where simplicity and elegance are fundamental qualities. A never-ending feedback.

As Santiago de Molina wrote, “beauty is not to be discussed. It only forces us to look at it. Without stopping”. Mar will keep on looking at the mysteries of the universe, at the new scientific directions launched by improved tools, the ways to do experiments faster, and, hopefully, she will see more and more women joining science

Mar will surely continue to dream about how to build the house. The one that, like a good snail, she carries on her back.

Women @CERN

Marta Bajko

In a lost corner of the world, between mountains, is where Marta’s most peaceful place lies. A place of back to the reality, back to the basis, where she charges her batteries.

She was born in Gheorgheni (Romania), a small city located in eastern Transylvania, around 175 km from “Dracula’s Castle”. She spent her first 20 years in Romania, where many of her relatives still live, but she is also linked to Hungary because of her nationality and her culture. During four years, Marta studied mechanical engineering at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics and, shortly after, she became a CERNie.

Marta is the Section Leader of the TE-MSC-TF section at CERN. She started to work here as a research engineer, in charge of the superconducting magnet design, the fabrication and the contract follow up for the LHC dipoles. For 24 years, she has been at CERN, where she has developed her whole professional career.

She likes and enjoys what she does. Maybe that is why she finds beauty even in a piece of iron. At the entrance of building SM-18, where visitors await, there is a magnet that Marta recovered from one of the old storage areas. They turned it into a table. She likes that kind of object, those engineering pieces of art.

She has always loved the mountains. Although Marta’s blue eyes were already used to nature, she feels that this particular area, near the Alps, is quite amazing, in terms of landscapes, greenery and peaks. From time to time, Marta fantasizes about climbing Mont Blanc sometime. She still has doubts about it. This may always be one of her pipe dream, her voeu pieux, as the French would say.

Her mom always told her: help yourself and God will help you. A teaching that highlights the importance of self-initiative, and willingness. Marta comes from a quite religious community. She does not believe as they do, but she respects their beliefs. She is always down to earth. Still, this is a lesson that Marta would pass on to her daughter.

In one of his novels, Panait Istrati, a Romanian working class writer, stands up for goodness, saying that the goodness of one single man is much stronger than the evil of a thousand, because evil ends when it, metaphorically, dies, but good is transmitted to others and remains even after it dies. Marta completely agrees with him. She thinks that everything is relative and that if you insist on trying to change everything in a positive way, there is always a positive side in everything. It is a question of trying to see it.

One day, Marta will return to spend more time at those lands that saw her grow, where she used to play without a care in the world. That very lost place with no electricity, water or network. A special corner that is quite difficult, but very satisfying, to reach.

To go back to the roots, one day, because as it is said in one of Roberto Benigni’s movies, “life is not perfect, it is not coherent, it is not easy, it is not eternal, but in spite of everything, life is beautiful”.

Women @CERN

Mariam González

In the centre of the capital. At the most crowded and congested spot in town, where people only know the rush and the sky is greyer. “Pongamos que hablo de Madrid”, where Mariam lived until she came to work at CERN in early January 2017.

She studied aeronautical engineering at the Polytechnic University of Madrid, and she also did her Master’s degree in aerospace systems there. Shortly after, she exchanged the crowded streets of the Spanish capital for the peace of mind, the noise of the cars horns for the birds singing. The tiny nature concentrated in the Retiro and Casa de Campo for the immense lac Lemán and the gleaned Jura mountains.

Mariam is so glad with her decision that she hardly misses anything from her city of birth (well, just the people, the food and the sun). She adapted very quickly to this countryside life. Seasonal sports were very helpful: skiing, snowboarding or raquettes during the winter, and cycling, trekking or swimming in spring and summer. Outdoors activities that were unthinkable in Madrid.

Although she does not consider herself a dreamy person, Mariam is content to be as happy as possible every single day of her life, or at least, to try it. But, what makes her happy? To keep growing, personally and professionally, as well as enjoy the little things that happen around her. It does not matter if they are good or bad.

Her parents taught her that “al mal tiempo buena cara”, and it has really helped Mariam at some points in her life. In The Gods themselves, Isaac Asimov wrote that “there are no happy endings in history, only crisis points that pass”. Better to face them with a good attitude, or with our best smile.

Mariam loves science fiction movies and literature: the futuristic landscapes and conspiracies. Although she is not a pure scientist, she is a key part of a huge scientific project because, together with people from other disciplines, engineers at CERN make scientists’ dreams come true, and we all know that “with great power comes great responsibility”.

The needs and the priorities change over the life, and that is why Mariam will redefine her idea and feeling of happiness. Nothing new under the sun: it is not what used to make her happy either that makes her happy now. The Friends,who live in neighbours apartments above Central Perk, know a lot about this, about growing, about life.

Asimov also wrote that “to succeed, planning alone is insufficient. One must improvise as well”. Perhaps, that is why Mariam prefers not to make plans for the future and let herself go. She is not in the past either, not in the mood for nostalgia.

New beautiful people and life experiences will get in her path, and Mariam will always welcome them with open arms and her best smile.

Women @CERN

Laure Esteveny

It is said that dinosaurs exist at CERN. Laure says it. She defines herself as one of them. She started working here in July 1986. Now, almost 35 years later, she is the head of CERN Alumni Relations, but her road to it has had numerous bends.

She has worked in many different job positions for CERN, proportional to her working years. She started as a young engineer in telecommunications and computing with a fellowship, then she quite rapidly became a staff member. Less than two years later, she met and married a physicist, and she moved on to project leadership in administrative computing. She has two sons, and she spent less than a year at the LHC Budget Monitoring Office. Later on, she moved into the internal audit service and she became Head of Internal Audit. Laure had the immense pleasure and honor to work with Rolf-Dieter Heuer, in this position, during his seven years of mandate. It was in June 2017 when she became Head of the newly launched CERN Alumni programme.

Before starting at CERN, Laure was working in Canada. She was a 25-years-old recently graduate in Telecommunication Engineering. Because a friend of her, who had a fellowship at CERN, told her there was a job opportunity, and because she wanted to come back to France, she decided to apply. A couple of months later, her adventure as a CERNie started.

Laure comes from a labour family in Lyon, the ancient capital of Gaul. Also, la capitale mondiale de la gastronomie, according to the well-known food critic, Curnonsky. Lyonnaise delicious food, together with family, is what she misses the most from her childhood’s town.

In her desk, Laure has a quote that illustrates Voltaire’s philosophy: Je ne suis pas d’accord avec ce que vous dites, mais je me battrai jusqu’à la mort pour que vous ayez le droit de le dire.

Experience has taught her that this world is very small (it is a handkerchief, as Spanish people would say). Laure’s grandmother was from Spain, and she used to say that la beauté ne se mange pas en salade. And, genetics kept that in mind.

If Laure’s grandmother assured that hard work is what nourish us, and not beauty, for Laure, beauty comes unknowingly to humans. It comes to us whenever it wants, it is not us who decide that. It is something that strikes you and, irretrievably, you say: “Oh my God, this is beautiful”. But we can not create it. No way however hard you try, you can just create the conditions that may make it appear. When she was a student, Laure used to find beauty in mathematics.

Dinosaurs do not just exist. They also dream. They dream of passing their motorbike license and of having a last fantastic job at CERN, a very meaningful one because the more you get old, the more what is important is the meaning of things: what sense you find behind them.

They also yearn for remaining as children. Picasso said that it took him “four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child”. And Laure would love to become this child in herself right to the end.

It is said that soon, dinosaurs will also ride motorcycles.

Women @CERN

Sabrina Riebe

Half German, half South African. Sabrina’s nationality belongs to the Germany of the philosophers, poets and musicians. Her birth, childhood and adolescence are based in Cape Town.

She remembers the mornings there. Waking up in her parents house, looking out of the windows and contemplating the beautiful views of Cape Town, bathed by the Atlantic Ocean. At night, as Kurt Darren would sing, “dis hemel op Tafelberg”, and Sabrina enjoyed looking at the stars, which were over the flat top of Table Mountain.

Her family still lives there and she misses them quite a lot. She also misses South African cuisine and the general lifestyle. Unlike Europe, in South Africa everything takes place outdoors. And she says it from the experience because, with her 23 years old, Sabrina has lived in a bunch of different countries.

After studying a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology in South Africa, she moved to Paris to study a Master of Science in Management of Technology – Information Systems. Frankfurt, Cologne, the small Saint-Genis-Pouilly… Sabrina lives now in Geneva and she works at CERN as a project control analyst on the HiLumi Project.

She started working at CERN not even a year ago, in September 2019. Being at CERN was a dream that she wanted to achieve since she was very very young. She loves the learning environment that CERN gives. To Sabrina, it is a place where new people with fresh ideas are constantly coming, people who are passionate about their achievements. Every day at CERN means a new adventure.

Sabrina is quite a dreamer. Lots of goals surround her. If she thinks about her future, she sees herself working kind of an interface between technical and business worlds. She very much enjoys the technical engineering side of things, but also business, and learning and understanding how and why everything fits together.

She could see herself mixing both one day with the aim of contributing to Humanity, because as the South African human rights and anti-racism activist, Nelson Mandela, said once: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead”. To Sabrina, it is also very important to make a positive contribution to other people’s lives.

She agrees with Nadine Gordimer, the South African writer and political activist who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1991. “A truly living human being cannot remain neutral”. She feels like, if you remain neutral, you are accepting all of the injustices in the world. It is when you have an opinion, and when you feel passionate about something, when you initiate a change towards a better future.

Sabrina feels like she is still growing and learning every single day. She likes to imagine herself opening a company for contributing to Humanity in some form. Mandela said that “everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do”.

And, for sure, Sabrina will do.

Women @CERN

Paula Freijedo Menéndez

Like Chandler Bing, Phoebe Buffay or Ross Geller, no one told Paula life was gonna be this way. For whatever reason, fate brought this woman from Oviedo to the world’s largest particle physics laboratory. She left everything in Asturias, which saw her grow, train and reinvent herself. She grabbed her suitcase and she came alone to the surroundings of the Franco-Swiss border. It has been 6 years since then.

She studied Technical Mining Engineering in Mieres, and very soon she began to work in the industry on the shores of the Cantabrian Sea, in Gijón. At that time, the country was already saying goodbye to coal mines and the employment opportunities were scarce, but Paula decided to reinvent herself by jumping to another branch of Engineering. She did a master’s degree in International Welding Engineering in Gijón. She tried her luck at CERN right after, and she won.

To this day, she is still impressed by this huge laboratory and its performance. For her, it is fantastic that at CERN people with different nationalities, cultures, backgrounds and specialization areas collide, and that together they collaborate to carry lots of projects forwards. That cooperation capacity, that working style, has nothing to do with what Paula had experienced in the industry.

For Paula, being here, being a CERNie, is a dream come true. She does not consider herself very ambitious when it comes to fantasizing. Paula simply dreams of being happy, having a certain professional stability and continuing to enjoy her small big family, which grew a bit a few months ago with Casper, a 5-year-old French bulldog who climbs mountains at the speed of light.

The younger and crazier Paula from 2003 was already screaming for dreams like these ones, together with El Canto del Loco: “y vivir así, yo quiero vivir así”. This song brings her back very good memories, those that used to materialize from pub to pub in the nights with friends, when you had a good time and there were no worries lurking.

Paula, who enjoys horror films and the crime novels of Agatha Christie and Camilla Läckberg, defines herself as a simple person, something easy to say, but no to explain. For her, beauty can be seen from the beach, at sunset, or in the manufacture of new components. Although it is sometimes hidden behind many meetings, unforeseen events or ups and downs, there is no rival for the collective effort. That is why such a beautiful things always end up coming out.

She is an optimistic woman and she tries to apply a daily dose of “no hay mal que por bien no venga”, because although sometimes we do not want to see it, there is always something good around us.

Libertad en los ojos: / invadir la belleza / y meterla en un hombre. From these verses by Antonio Gamoneda, who was also born in Oviedo, our engineer thinks of freedom without restrictions and beauty as subjectivity. 

As in Una foto en blanco y negro, “viendo la vida sin reloj”, Paula will continue to assemble challenges and the art of simplicity and tranquility. She will go on as if she knows there will always be a place for her in Monica Geller’s apartment.