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Making a difference with science

To mark the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, female scientists at CERN share their stories of how their roles have an impact on new technologies and applications for society

Portraits of women in Science compaign 2019
Dr Etiennette Auffray, a French/Swiss physicist, develops detectors based on scintillating materials for high-energy physics, as well as applications including positron emission tomography (PET) scanning (Image: Julien Ordan/CERN) (Image: CERN)

With 11 February marking the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, female scientists from CERN share their experiences of building a career in science and how their work can have applications in industry and in society. Each day in the run-up to 11 February, we will highlight a different scientist.

Etiennette Auffray: “Everybody faces health issues at one time or another, so I’m happy if the results of my detector research can aid progress for medical diagnoses”

“I really appreciate the international, multicultural and open-minded environment of CERN. It is a great example of how people from many different countries and cultures can work together towards the same goal!”

French/Swiss physicist Etiennette Auffray joined CERN as a PhD student in physics. Throughout her career at CERN, she has always combined detector development and knowledge transfer. She is currently technical coordinator of the CMS electromagnetic calorimeter, consisting of 75 848 scintillating crystals. She is also spokesperson for the Crystal Clear collaboration and is coordinating several research activities to develop detectors based on scintillating materials for high-energy physics and other applications, in particular for positron emission tomography (PET).

She enjoys combining fundamental and applied research, transferring technologies developed for fundamental physics to different domains, particularly healthcare. “Everybody will one day in their life face a health problem, and I am happy if the results of the detector research in which I participate can contribute to progress in instrumentation for medical diagnoses.“

Wioletta Kozlowska: “My computer simulations help to improve particle therapy for cancer patients”

Wioletta Kozlowska, a Polish biomedical engineer and medical physicist, is working to improve the precision of particle-therapy treatments (Image: Julien Ordan/CERN)

“I remember the fun that I had disassembling old telephones and radios with my grandpa.”

Polish biomedical engineer and medical physicist Wioletta Kozlowska fell in love with science at a young age. “First, I wanted to become an astronaut, then I had a fling at biology, chemistry and medicine.” To satisfy her interests in technology and medicine, she chose to study biomedical engineering. Her Bachelor’s degree included electronics and computer science and she went on to study for a Master’s in biomedical engineering. She is currently completing her PhD in medical physics.

Accelerators in medicine caught her attention and brought her to CERN. She now works in the field of particle therapy, developing FLUKA Monte Carlo code, which is widely used to simulate particle transport and interactions, in her case using real patient data. She validates, develops and integrates this code and its physical models for proton and ion therapies. “I love being in contact with medical facilities and I can see that this project has an impact. It provides solutions for the current issues in particle therapy and improves the precision of the treatment.”

As a young girl, it wasn’t always easy to study and work in the technical field. “Looking back, I would just encourage myself to ask more questions, to take part in discussions more actively and to fight for my ideas.”

Alessandra Lombardi: “I design linear accelerators, in particular for medical applications”

Alessandra Lombardi, an Italian accelerator physicist, works with linear accelerators, including the new Linac4 accelerator, pictured here (Image: Julien Ordan/CERN) (Image: CERN)

“I was probably drawn to science as a child because of my fascination with the work of Galileo!”


Italian accelerator physicist Alessandra Lombardi works with linear accelerators, including the new Linac4 accelerator that will provide beams to the LHC in the coming years. She provides guidelines for the design of linear accelerators, with special emphasis on their use in medical applications, such as hadron-therapy facilities.


She became fascinated by accelerator physics while studying physics at university. “I was very lucky that I got the chance to continue in the same field.” In her current role, she enjoys the balance of creativity and rigour: “There is a good balance between theoretical and practical work in what I do”.

Marie Nowak: “I enjoy adapting detector technology to the practical needs of doctors”

Marie Nowak, a French physicist, is adapting a hybrid pixel detector to the medical environment (Image: Julien Ordan/CERN)  

“If I could meet the little girl that I once was, I would tell her to believe in herself.”

French physicist Marie Nowak has been attracted to science ever since her childhood. “My parents were always there to explain to me how the world and the objects within it functioned.” 


She decided to pursue her studies with a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s in physics, and finally with a PhD. Now, she is working with a hybrid pixel detector, developed in the framework of the Medipix collaboration at CERN. Her role is to adapt the detector to the medical environment.


She sees this role as the culmination of her studies. “I enjoy the multidisciplinary approach of my PhD, combining the work of scientific teams with the practical needs of doctors.”

Mar Capeáns: “Science gave me room for imagination and creativity”

Mar Capeáns, a Spanish physicist, guides the transformation of large and complex detector projects from design to prototyping and construction (Image: Julien Ordan/CERN) 

“As a child, I chose to study science because it gave me room for imagination and creativity, with a rigorous and structured approach to solving new problems.”

Spanish physicist Mar Capeáns currently leads the project-planning group of CERN’s Technology department. She also works closely with the LHC experiments, preparing their detector upgrades. Her role involves looking at the technical maturity of the new detector designs and guiding the transformation of these large and complex projects from design to prototyping and construction.

She began working at CERN soon after finishing her physics degree. “I quickly understood that particle physics is a challenging field that advances thanks to new theories, discoveries and the development of new technologies in a very collaborative environment.” As her roles at CERN have changed and evolved over time, one aspect that she values is always striving to work with and learn from the best people.

“I deal with intelligent people with specialised expertise, which can have its challenges when a project has to all come together. On the other hand, I also love the collaborative aspect of science projects. We work in large teams of people from all over the world, with many young people joining and enhancing these teams.”