Interview with Agnieszka Zalewska

Yesterday, the CERN Council elected its new President to take over as of 2013. Agnieszka Zalewska is the first woman and the first Polish physicist to fill this position.


Agnieszka Zalewska.

Your involvement with CERN dates back to the 70s. Tell us about your career at CERN.

I got involved with CERN in 1970, when I joined the Krakow group working on the K+ proton interactions recorded at the 2 metre Bubble chamber experiment at the PS. This was for my diploma thesis. I continued my collaboration with CERN during my PhD, working on the analysis of high-multiplicity events from the same experiment.

After receiving my PhD in 1975, I came to CERN for the first time to work in the S136 experiment. I was then involved in the WA3 experiment and, for over 15 years, in the DELPHI experiment at LEP. It was a very interesting time because, in the early 80s, work had begun on the silicon vertex detector with VLSI read-out electronics in Peter Weilhammer's and Bernard Hyams’ group.

Since 2000 my work has primarily centred on neutrino physics. I have been involved in the ICARUS experiment at Gran Sasso (Italy) and the T2K experiment at JPARC (Japan).

I have learnt about how CERN functions also by working in various committees: ACCU, the SPSC, the CERN Research Board, the SPC and, of course, as a Polish delegate to the CERN Council since January 2010.


You will take over as of January 2013, when the LHC will be preparing for the technical stop. How will the role of CERN and the CERN Council develop over this period?

The LHC should remain the first priority of CERN and should be of prime interest to the CERN Council. The role of the Council is also to aid in the completion and implementation of the European Strategy for Particle Physics. The coming years will be fascinating but demanding. We will prepare the LHC for running at its design energy and we will further develop the global approach to particle physics projects.

The scientific quality of CERN is recognized worldwide. From a Polish perspective, CERN was the first European institution of which Poland became a member. For us, it was a model for international collaboration and a gateway to Europe. The quality of CERN’s scientific programme has been achieved thanks to the exemplary skills of the CERN personnel and of the researchers engaged in the experimental groups in the Member States and all over the world.


How will your life change as President of the CERN Council?

It’s a great change in my life. It will be a lot of work. Working for the Council will be my first priority and I will dedicate as much of my time to it as it requires. I will still be based in Krakow and will continue my research work, but will often visit CERN.

I have many things to learn; it’s a very demanding job. I will profit from my previous experience and will interact a lot with the current Council President, Michel Spiro, whom I will replace in 2013.


Life will change also for your family…

Yes, but my husband is also a physicist and he understands the constraints very well. My four children are all grown-up now.

Yesterday I received very nice e-mails from many colleagues in many countries – another way of observing the international character of CERN! From my family? My grandson sent me an SMS to congratulate me! He is 8 years old.

by Antonella Del Rosso and Katarina Anthony