3 July 2009

Stefania Xella receives money for frontline research and leading role

’The New Frontier in Particle Physics’, is the title of the research project, for which particle physicist Stefania Xella has been awarded almost 6 million kroner from the Danish Council for Independent Research, Natural Sciences (FNU). It is not just a grant for frontline research, but also for being a leading role model, as in addition to the research project itself, Stefania Xella has been appointed as a female research leader.

She thinks that it is very positive that focus is being put on encouraging female researchers in science with special grants, ”but I hope of course, that I have received the money because I am capable and it is a good research project”, says Stefania Xella with a large smile, because she has all her qualifications in order.

We met her at her office at the Niels Bohr Institute in the middle of the summer heat. To the comment that she must be used to the hot summer temperatures, she answers, ”no, not any more, it has been 15 years since I left Italy”. Stefania Xella comes from Bologna, where she studied physics at university. But she met her Danish husband, Steen Hansen, who is also a physicist, and they moved to Denmark together, where she got a PhD position at the Niels Bohr Institute.

Following that they worked in San Fransisco, USA, England and in Zürich, Switzerland. In 2006 they returned to Denmark where they both now work at the Niels Bohr Institute. They have completely different research areas and yet share a research focus – namely the mysteries of the universe. Steen Hansen is an astrophysicist and researches the mysterious dark matter of the universe and Stefania is a particle physicist and researches the universe’s unsolved mystery concerning the mass of particles.

It is research that requires very special facilities. At CERN in Switzerland, researchers can recreate conditions in the 27 km long particle accelerator, Large Hadron Collider (LHC) that are reminiscent of the earliest stages of the universe, sort of like mini Big Bangs.

The aim of her research project is to answer some of the most fundamental unanswered questions of the properties and interactions of particles. Which mechanism had a united force to divide into different forces at a given time? And is it also this mechanism, which gives mass to all the fundamental particles, that is to make them weigh something? The answer to both questions can be found through the so-called Higgs particle.

Two new research positions, a post doc position and a PhD position will be established for the research project.