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Meenakshi Narain (1964 – 2023)

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Meenakshi Narain, a physicist par excellence, inspirational leader and champion of diversity, died unexpectedly on 1 January 2023 in Providence, RI, USA. A renowned experimental particle physicist, and considered by many as a “force of nature”, Meenakshi’s impact on the physics community has left an indelible mark.

Meenakshi grew up in Gorakhpur (India) and emigrated to the US in 1984 for graduate school at SUNY Stony Brook. Meenakshi’s PhD thesis work at the CUSB-II detector at CESR utilised inclusive photon spectra from upsilon decays for both spectroscopy measurements and searches for exotic particles (including the Higgs boson).

In 1991, Meenakshi joined Fermilab as a postdoc on the D0 experiment. She was a principal player in the 1995 top discovery, leading a group searching for top anti-top pair production in the di-lepton channel. Over the next decade, as a Fermilab Wilson Fellow and a faculty member at Boston University, she made seminal contributions to measurements of top quark pair and single top production, as well as the top mass, width and couplings. 

Meenakshi joined the CMS experiment in 2007 upon joining the faculty at Brown University. She pioneered a number of exotic searches for high-mass resonances, new heavy gauge bosons and top quark partners. She continued to make innovative contributions to precision top quark measurements, and her foundational work on bottom and charm quark identification paved the way for Higgs boson searches and measurements. As a leader of the CMS Upgrade Studies Group, she coordinated physics studies for several CMS technical design reports for the High-Luminosity LHC upgrade, and an impressive number of results for the CERN yellow reports. She was also an important contributor to the US CMS Outer Tracker (OT) upgrade community: her leadership of the OT Modules group was instrumental to numerous successful reviews, and was key for moving the project forward. 

The tutorials and workshops Meenakshi organised as co-coordinator of the LHC Physics Center (LPC) were pivotal in advancing the careers of many young scientists, whom she cared about deeply. As US CMS Collaboration Board Chair, Meenakshi was a passionate advocate for the research programme, and she created an inclusive, supportive community that participated in movements such as Black Lives Matter, and tackled numerous challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A strong voice for women and under-represented minorities in physics, Meenakshi was the founding co-chair of the CMS Diversity Office and the driving force behind the CMS Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion and the CMS Women’s Forum. She mentored a large group of students, post-docs and scientists from diverse backgrounds, and strived to improve diversity and inclusion in physics, such as by creating PURSUE, an internship programme that provides summer research opportunities at CMS to students from minority-serving institutions.

Meenakshi’s illustrious career has been recognised via numerous accolades and positions of responsibility. She is remembered for her recent co-leadership of the Snowmass Energy Frontier study, her service on HEPAP and her new appointment to the P5 Subpanel, in addition to her new position as the first woman Chair of Brown University’s Department of Physics. She will always be remembered as a brilliant scientist, a beloved mentor and an inspiring leader who made the world a better, more equitable and inclusive place. Her legacy will live on via the generations of physicists she inspired over the years.

Our heartfelt condolences go out to Meenakshi’s friends and colleagues across the world and particularly to her husband Ulrich Heintz, sons Anand and Aneesh and the rest of her family. Some colleagues have created a memorial website, where one can leave a story, light a candle or send a message: https://www.forevermissed.com/meenakshi-narain/about.

Her colleagues and friends