Peter Jenni | An Experimental Particle Physicist

Peter Jenni

Peter Jenni is an experimental particle physicist working at CERN. He is best known as one of the “founding fathers” of the ATLAS experiment at the CERN Large Hadron Collider together with a few other colleagues. He acted as spokesperson (project leader) of the ATLAS Collaboration until 2009. ATLAS is a world-wide collaboration which started in 1995 involving roughly 3,000 physicists at 177 institutions in 38 countries. Jenni was directly involved in the experimental work leading to the discoveries of the W and Z bosons in the 1980s and the Higgs boson in 2012. He is (co-)author of about 550 publications in scientific journals.

I Am Driven By | suaGrelIJwRGFuMk8foNh_JwXMNirD2lmUWDINF_ljEThe short answer is: curiosity to understand the wonders of Nature! I am fascinated by discovering the most fundamental laws of physics, which connect the smallest bits, the elementary particles, with the immense dimensions of our Universe.
The more complex answer is that I deeply believe that with greater knowledge in general, and of physics in particular, mankind will arrive at a better life for all, albeit often via very weird and painful detours. By having contributed to enable a frontline research facility, many hundreds of young talented minds from all over the world have not only learned science and scientific working, but also to work together regardless of any borders. Seeing the enthusiasm of brilliant students gives me all reasons to continue pursuing the research and teaching of science.

My Highlights | I had the privilege to be centrally involved in the discoveries of most fundamental ingredients for the ‘Standard Model of Particle Physics’, namely the intermediate vector bosons W and Z in the early 1980s, and more recently the Higgs boson 2012 at the CERN Large Hadron Collider. I have co-initiated and led for two decades one of the two worldwide collaborations, called ATLAS, which made this discovery. University groups from 38 countries work in ATLAS, and I was personally involved and motivated to open doors for participation also from less rich and emerging countries, like South Africa and countries in Latin America. I am proud to see students and young people from all over the world working together. I am also proud that a lot of talented female scientists take now the lead in many research activities in ATLAS.

Peter-Jenni_P2 copyA Key Talent | I don’t think one single talent or strength are worth mentioning from me. But I always tried to do and act what I deeply thought is right, and what has a meaning for my life. Of course I failed often, but luckily I had the strength to try again after such moments. Setting up the worldwide science collaboration ATLAS meant to listen well to my fellow-scientists coming from different cultures and horizons, expressing themselves very differently from one continent to the other, but all enthusiastic about the same physics dreams for discoveries. Being able to foster a consensus among collaborators, and motivate them, and inject my own science ideas to the common effort, made me happy.

The Characteristics Of Success | Listen in an honest and open way to other opinions,but also having a clear vision what you want to achieve, were important to reach my goals. Sometimes I was wrong with my initial thoughts, sometimes I failed to reach a consensus with all the people in the project, and it was useful for me to step back, accept a mistake or defeat, and continue working harder towards the goals in which I believe

Principles I Live By | To think about what you want to achieve, be enthusiastic about it,and then to give the best of you, working towards your goals. It is great to have dreams, but assess realistic steps to realize them. Be both persisting and also flexible.

Lessons I Have Learnt | To lead a project: listen carefully to your collaborators before you answer and decide. For your life: enjoy gratefully the wonderful moments of your life, these being often very small events and encounters, not only big celebrations.

Dealing With Doubt | Self-doubts have been a regular thing during my career. A way to deal with was to also remember the positive achievements in such moments, as modest as they may seem in negative moods. This helped me to re-assess the next steps, and motivate me not to give up. My fear was often to deceive people, in particular the many students who are relying on our project to make their Masters and PhDs. This was a great motivation to not give up in my job!

Resources I Use To Stay Inspired | Music, from all continents, from now and before … I come back also often to my ‘heroes’ of my youth: Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, and Patti Smith (I just met her a couple of weeks ago and showed her the ATLAS experiment), and many others… I enjoy at home a rather wild garden with old trees, they are wiser than me!

Peter-Jenni_P1 copyMy Future Dreams And Ambitions | My ambition is now to ‘infect’ many of the students in our collaboration with the ‘virus’ of learning and thinking ‘science’, for a happy live of theirs and for the benefit of society. Personally I dream we find the clue to the mystery of Dark Matter in the Universe.

The Meaning Of Life | Enjoy in a deep way our luck to live on a beautiful planet, contribute to and share happiness with others, add something to our common understanding and knowledge of Nature.


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