2018 Magellanic Premium Medal

The 2018 Magellanic Premium medal was awarded to Fabiola Gianotti “for her role in the discovery of the Higgs boson and her leadership in elementary particle physics.  From the design and construction of the ATLAS detector to the analysis of the data and discovery of the Higgs, Gianotti played a leading role in this milestone event. Today she serves as the Director-General of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and is leading the quest to understand matter, energy, space and time at the most fundamental level.”  The medal is engraved “for the discovery of the Higgs boson and leadership in high energy physics.”

The presentation of the prize took place at the Society's virtual April 2021 Meeting.  In the video of the award ceremony above, APS president Linda Greenhouse introduces the prize and the chair of the prize selection committee, Gordon Baym, presents the prize to her.  In her acceptance speech Dr. Gianotti discusses the significance of the relationship between the humanities and sciences and provides thought provoking insight about the idea of "useful knowledge" and the purpose of pure scientific investigation.  For instance, scientific investigation pursued purely for the sake of curiosity and knowledge may have appeared useless to society at the time, but generations later led to the development of transistors, GPS, and other advances that have had a profound impact on society today.

Fabiola Gianotti is an experimental elementary particle physicist. As the Spokesperson of ATLAS, one of the major experiments at CERN, Gianotti led one of the two, 3000-member teams that discovered the Higgs boson in 2012. The discovery of the Higgs was recognized by a Nobel Prize for the theory, but none for the experiment.  Her involvement in the Higgs discovery began with the design and building of the 7000-ton ATLAS detector with its almost 100 million readout channels and continued through the physics analysis that led to the actual discovery.  As CERN DG, she is shaping the global future of the field whose modest mission is a fundamental understanding of matter, energy, space and time.  Gianotti, a Foreign Member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and an International Member of the American Philosophical Society, also trained as a classical pianist at the Milan Conservatory.

From a gift of 200 guineas by John Hyacinth de Magellan, of London, in 1786, for a gold medal to be awarded from time to time under prescribed terms, to the author of the best discovery or most useful invention relating to navigation, astronomy, or natural philosophy (mere natural history only excepted).  The medal, named the Magellanic Premium, was first awarded in 1790.   It is the oldest medal recognizing scientific achievements given by a North American institution.

The selection committee members were Gordon Baym, Professor Emeritus, Research Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Marvin Cohen, University Professor of Physics, University of California, Berkeley, Senior Faculty Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory; Jeremiah Ostriker, Professor of Astronomy, Columbia University, Professor Emeritus of Astrophysical Sciences, Princeton University; and Michael Turner, Director, Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, Bruce V. and Diana M. Rauner Distinguished Service Professor, University of Chicago.