You’ve come a long way!

To mark the forthcoming International Women’s Day, on 8 March, Pauline Gagnon, a physicist working on the ATLAS experiment, has launched a project that will show how far women have come in particle physics. On that day, women will be invited to take the controls of all of CERN’s experiments and accelerators.


Pauline Gagnon, ATLAS physicist, at work
The number of women working in particle physics has increased greatly since CERN was created. This is a result worth sharing with the CERN community.

Pauline Gagnon has had a passion for science from an early age, and always wanted to work in this field. However, given the small number of women actually working in physics towards the end of the 1970s, it was very difficult for a woman to gain acceptance.  “Amongst all those men, I always felt a bit of an interloper,” she confides. That is why the principal message that she wants to bring across with the 8 March event is: “Despite everything, women have broken down the walls around this exclusively male preserve, and it’s important that this should be noted. I also hope that it will energise women, especially those who are isolated in their workplace. That’s why I call on all women to volunteer to take over the key positions in the control rooms, in operations and quality assurance, as experts on call, as visit guides and so on, in order to increase our visibility.” She adds: “In this way we hope to raise our profile, so as to capture the public’s attention, dispel certain myths and encourage more young women to take up professions in science and technology.”

This is not the first time Pauline has taken the initiative to strengthen the bonds between women. Along with several colleagues, she set up a women’s network for the ATLAS collaboration. “That allowed us to support each other more easily,” she adds. Most recently, a dozen women from ATLAS took part in the “Expanding your horizons” event, at which women scientists conducted workshops for some 250 young women from the region, in the hope of attracting them to a scientific career.
More than anything else, Pauline Gagnon wants as many women as possible to take part, setting an example for other laboratories to follow. “So far the project looks pretty good: the Management is actively supporting it, and about sixty people from all over CERN have already signed up,” she reports.

If you want to contribute to organising this event, just sign up to the following mailing list. If you have some ideas about getting your department or group involved, don’t hesitate to contact Pauline. Men can show their support by enabling women to take shifts in the control rooms on 8 March.

For more information, please visit the web pages on equal opportunities at CERN.

by Laëtitia Pedroso