19 October 2010

Valeria Perez Reale

Nationality: Argentinean

Valeria in person and a drawing from the "Draw me a physicist" series

Physicists are elderly men, wearing white lab coats and looking a bit like Einstein – that was the way most kids draw physicists before their visit to CERN. But, thanks to Valeria Perez Reale and her colleagues who participated in the 'Draw me a physicist' program, the way these kids see scientists changed forever. “I was happy to be interviewed and sketched by 8 years old from the Geneva and Pays de Gex area, who had never visited CERN before,” Valeria says. She adds, “It fills me with satisfaction to see young children interested in science and the pleasure when they learn new things that change the way they see their universe around them.”

In her spare time, Valeria Perez Reale does some outreach work for ATLAS and CERN. “I have taken hundreds of visitors to the ATLAS cavern and control room and other experiments. I think it is our duty to explain to the general public what we do at CERN,” she says.

On the 24th of September, she was part of the Researchers' Night, where teenagers signed-up to be physicists for a night, and visited the ATLAS control room. “Monika Wielers and I gave the master class and it was a pleasure to see teenagers give up their Friday night to come to ATLAS and analyze data!” she remembers enthusiastically.

Valeria was born in the Argentinean Pampas but at age four she and her family moved to the US because her father had to finish his Master thesis at the University of Minnesota. They stayed three years, then moved back to Argentina, where she had to re-learn to speak Spanish! The family moved to the US again when Valeria was nine year old. She only spoke Spanish at the time and had to learn English in school. “Not talking the language, the only subjects I could compete (in) were mathematics and physics,” she remembers. When she was 14 year old, they moved back to Argentina where she had to re-learn to speak Spanish! “This taught me to adapt quickly to new cultures, I think this is also were I learned that a 'smile' is a universal language,” she says smiling and adds: “I have now lived a third of my life in the USA, a third in Argentina and a third in Switzerland.”

So, what led Valeria to further become interested in science? Well, her first choice after finishing high school was medicine, but during her preparation for exams she got more and more interested in physics. “Physics is the base of everything,” as Valeria puts it. She participated in different summer schools in Spain and Brazil, but it was at CERN, where she took part in the summer student program, that she made up her mind to pursue high energy physics. “Those were exciting times and that's when I fell in love with the search for the Higgs and the international environment of the HEP collaborations,” Valeria recalls nostalgically and continues, “I returned to CERN in 2002 to do my PhD at Bern University on the ATLAS experiment.” After her PhD, she joined the ATLAS experiment as a CERN Fellow for the trigger group where she was nominated co-convener of the electron and photon trigger group. When Argentina joined the ATLAS collaboration in 2006 she worked with several students from Argentinean universities to setup the photon triggers. “My main contribution was the development of the physics photon triggers for initial running, strategy for different luminosities and work on the search for the…Higgs boson,” Valeria explains.

In 2008 she joined Columbia University and the Pixel detector, where she was involved in the detector calibration and commissioning. “Tuning the 80 million channels is important to assure good quality of data. In the ATLAS control room I have been working in Standard Model prompt photon measurements. I am currently (an) Editorial Board member for two Exotics analyses in preparation for publication this year.

Valeria isn't 'all science all the time though. In summer, she loves to be by the lakeside, walking or jogging after work. 'It is so relaxing to see the sunset with the reflections of the Mont-Blanc and the Salève in the water of Lac Léman. And in winter I love going to the opera in Geneva. One of my favorites was a modern French opera 'L'étoile.' I am not a mountain person, therefore I have to say, (even if it's been years since I live in the region), that I do not like skiing in winter or hiking in summer,” she admits.

Her absolute favorite hobby is dancing. “Already from when I was 5 year old, my mother signed me up for a tap dance class. Then I did some Spanish flamenco, belly dancing and samba,” Valeria says, obviously very happy to discuss it. The dance she really fell in love with though is Argentinean tango. “I learned the dance in Argentina, I met an exceptional man dancing in Geneva, and, since 'it takes two to tango,' I married him!” she says with a big smile. “The nice thing about this hobby is that tango is popular and can be found in any corner of the world. During the ATLAS Copenhagen Week my husband and I heard some tango music in the city on a Friday night. We followed the music and found an open air Milonga in front of the bay and started dancing!” Dancing under the stars – what could be better?




Birgit Ewert

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