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.

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